1995 Podlucky murder, with similarities to recent York Foundry Park slaying, ‘snake-bitten’ case
Su-Shan Podlucky talks to York, Pa., Mayor Robertson at the dedication of a tree planted in 2000, in memory of her son Joseph Podlucky. The tree was planted at the site of his murder near Foundry Park, off West Philadelphia Street. Other criminal case of note: 100th anniversary of drunken Pleasureville brawl, Relative: Evil in Hex murder came from outside and Death row survivor Ray Krone hopes book will open eyes about capital punishment and A list of traumatic, painful incidents that rocked York County.
The shooting death last week of law student James Wallmuth III has similarities with that of Joseph Podlucky Jr., shot in 1995.
Both were shot in the same area, in the Foundry Park area, near Clarke Avenue and Grant Street.
Podlucky was shot in the back of the head in a robbery that netted $2.50.
Wallmuth was shot in the back, and a witness said the assailant allegedly tried to get the victim’s cell phone.
Here’s hoping prosecutors working on the case against the gunman in the Wallmuth shooting have a straighter path to justice than the shooter in the Podlucky case.
Ricky Lee Legares, 37, was sentenced to life in January 1997 for the March 1995 shotgun murder of Podlucky. Legares was convicted of third-degree murder in May 1999 and sentenced to 10 to 20 years.
The following York Daily Record editorial (7/8/99) tells about that “snakebitten” case:
Twice now, juries of Ricky Lee “Rico” Lagares’ peers have found that he put a .20-gauge, sawed-off shotgun to the head of Joseph Podlucky and pulled the trigger, killing the former York College student and beginning what most certainly has become one of the most snake-bitten cases in the history of York County jurisprudence.
At first, former York County Coroner Kathryn Fourhman ruled Mr. Podlucky’s death a suicide. Her erroneous ruling stymied the police investigation. Then, once the suspected killer was arrested and put on trial, mistakes at Lagares’ first trial led a state Supreme Court justice to overturn his conviction for first-degree murder – and the mandatory life sentence that went with it.
Then, the second trial earlier this year ended with a jury finding Lagares guilty of third-degree murder. The same jury acquitted Lagares of robbery.
Then, his sentencing provided the final twist in this twisted case.
Because of a quirk in the law, Senior Judge Emanuel Cassimatis could only sentence Lagares to a mere 10 to 20 years in prison.
That means Lagares, twice convicted of a cold-blooded, brutal murder, will get out of prison one day, presumably as early as 2009.
That’s what the facts and the law determined.
Mr. Lagares had the “good fortune” of killing Mr. Podlucky on March 27, 1995.
That was 12 days after Gov. Tom Ridge signed a law increasing the penalty for third-degree murder from 10 to 20 years to 20 to 40 years. But it was also well before May 14, 1995, when the law went into effect.
Mr. Lagares didn’t know it at the time, but his choice in killing Mr. Podlucky on that date saved him 10 to 20 years behind bars.
We can search for someone to blame or some answers in this case. But as it has been from the beginning of this case, there is no good answer.
Finding someone to blame won’t keep Mr. Lagares in prison any longer. Searching for a scapegoat won’t change the horrible events of that night in the parking lot at the Gingerbread Man on West Philadelphia Street.
Assigning blame for this case going horribly wrong will not mitigate the anguish of Mr. Podlucky’s family.
In a statement provided to Judge Cassimatis, Mr. Podlucky’s sister, Susan, wrote, “No punishment will ever amount to the punishment Lagares has put my family through.”
That is most certainly true.
This ending – if it is an ending; appeals will drag on – provides a seemingly ironic closure to this case. It began with an error and ended on an apparently obscure technicality.
You can search all you want to for meaning in this. You can search all you want for an explanation for what happened. You can try to come up with some reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
Any such search is bound to be fruitless.
The system did work, in its own weird way. If serious errors marred Mr. Lagares’ first trial, he was entitled to another. That’s the way the system works. It protects the innocent from governmental abuse. And if his second trial didn’t turn out as many believed it should, well, that’s the price we pay for the protection of the law. At least Mr. Lagares was found responsible for his actions.
If anything, this case serves as a reminder that any attempt among human beings to exact perfect justice is bound to be flawed.
Also of interest:
– Check out all posts relating to the notorious Hex Murder trial of 1929 from the start.