The family and friends of Mark Wallace were glad last week that a judge did not allow Gerry Shaffer Jr. to walk out of the Criminal Justice Center a free man.
A jury in January convicted Shaffer, 24, of involuntary manslaughter in Wallace’s death. He was acquitted of the much more serious charge of third-degree murder. The jury determined that he did not act with malice in April 2010 when he scuffled on a Far Northeast street with Wallace, who died of a brain injury after his head hit the ground.
Sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of three to 12 months in jail. Shaffer’s attorneys had hoped that Judge Lillian Ransom would give him credit for five months already served in county jail and sentence him to probation.
Shaffer Jr. apologized before hearing his fate.
“I’m so deeply sorry,” he said.
In the end, Ransom sentenced him to 11½ to 23 months in jail, with credit for time served, followed by two years of probation. He was taken into custody.
“We’re very lucky to get this,” said Nancy Kolenkiewicz, Wallace’s sister. “I’m just glad for my brother’s sake. I hope [Shaffer] gets the help that he needs.”
Shaffer cried through much of the trial and the March 27 sentencing hearing. He tried to hug family members before being escorted out of the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy, but court rules prohibited that.
Shaffer’s family and friends did not want to talk to the news media afterward.
Defense attorney Jamie Funt described his client as “circumspect” and his family as “distraught.” Funt pointed out that the city probation and parole department’s pre-sentence report recommended probation, but he respected the balancing act that Ransom had to do.
“We certainly are a little disappointed,” he said.
Coley Reynolds, another attorney for Shaffer, said he believes his client will lead a productive life once released from jail.
“He wants to get a job and have a family. The court is never going to see him again,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim said he was satisfied with the sentence.
Shaffer, of the 4100 block of Farmdale Road, was a student at Orleans Technical Institute and hoped to become a fireman at the time of the incident. In the last two years, he has studied computers at a local career institute and is one credit shy of getting a diploma.
Wallace, 54, of the 3900 block of Patrician Drive, died 12 days after an altercation with Shaffer and his father on April 8, 2010, at the intersection of Knights and Fairdale roads.
At the trial, testimony showed that Shaffer Sr., a fireman, was driving east on Fairdale Road when he honked his horn at Wallace, a pedestrian. Shaffer Jr. was a passenger.
The elder Shaffer and Wallace exchanged unpleasantries, with the pedestrian insisting he had the right of way.
Shaffer Sr. parked his truck, got out and walked toward Wallace. A fight ensued, and Shaffer Jr. eventually joined the ruckus.
The prosecution’s key eyewitness testified that she heard voices from the Shaffers’ Dodge Durango tell Wallace to, “Get the f– out of the way.” She recalled Wallace backing up with his hands in the air, and Shaffer Jr. picking him up and slamming him to the ground.
Police later identified and arrested the Shaffers after a witness copied down their license plate number at the scene.
Shaffer Sr. died of a heart attack at age 48 in December 2011 while he was awaiting trial for murder.
In testimony during his trial, Shaffer Jr. said he was trying to break up the fight when he and Wallace fell to the ground.
At the sentencing hearing, Shaffer stood and read from prepared remarks.
“I feel your pain,” he told Wallace’s family.
Funt said Shaffer had had a rough young life, being physically abused by his father, losing a brother to a drug overdose and worrying about his sister’s chronic kidney disease.
Shaffer said he tried to help, not hurt, Wallace, adding that he often thinks about what he could have done differently.
At the hearing, Lim spoke of a July 2006 incident that led to the then-17-year-old Shaffer pleading guilty to an indecent assault charge. The grandmother of the 13-year-old female victim was in court, but Ransom did not allow her to speak.
The prosecutor pointed out that Shaffer, on multiple occasions following that adjudication, testified positive for marijuana.
Kolenkiewicz, Wallace’s sister, and Marie Wallace, his wife, harshly criticized Shaffer in court.
Kolenkiewicz showed graphic pictures of her brother’s injuries after the incident. The judge did not allow the jury to see those photos.
Kolenkiewicz described her brother as kind, generous, proud and thoughtful. She believes he was headed to Rite-Aid on that fateful day to buy her a “get well” card.
“He helped everybody and anybody,” she said.
Kolenkiewicz told Shaffer he was “a coward and a crybaby and a criminal.” .
Marie Wallace read a lengthy letter. She criticized defense attorneys for blaming Shaffer Sr. for the incident, noting that the younger Shaffer made a choice that early spring evening.
“A choice to be violent. A choice to be a punk,” she said.
Wallace said Shaffer, whom she labeled a “violent bad-ass,” smashed her husband’s skull into the concrete like a water balloon. She questioned his remorse, recalling that he did not cry during pre-trial hearings, waiting for the trial.
“Tears galore for the jury of your peers,” she said.
Shaffer told the court the episode will remain with him forever.
“I will carry this for the rest of my life,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org