Three of the five defendants charged in the vandalization of the Gardner Hill Community Church in Weedville were sentenced Monday in Elk County Court.
Martin Andrew Chicola, 22, of St. Marys, John Paul Gier, 22, of St. Marys, and Bradley Alan Vanvoorhis, 19, of Weedville, pleaded guilty to charges of felony burglary and misdemeanor criminal mischief before Judge Richard Masson during Monday's Return Day proceedings.
The charges stem from the Oct. 26, 2011 incident in which the defendants forcibly entered the Gardner Hill Church and in the process removed several items and left a deer carcass inside the church.
According to police reports and the defendants' own written statements, the night of the incident the group had been playing cards and drinking at a St. Marys residence when they decided to take a ride. Vanvoorhis drove his truck with Gier as his passenger and Chicola drove another vehicle with passengers Brandon Ott, 20, of St. Marys and Haley Elizabeth Heindl, 19, of Houston, Texas.
According to reports, Chicola and Vanvoorhis illegally shot the deer in Jay Township before the group decided to visit the church. As Elk County District Attorney Bradley Kraus recounted Monday, the group was in the church twice that evening. The group forced entry and removed a stereo before returning later that same evening, at which point they removed a table and dragged the bloody deer through the church and placing it on the lectern.
In his affidavit, investigating officer Trooper Ronald E. Chewning, a member of the Troop C Pennsylvania State Police Ridgway Barracks, reported that "upon arrival [at the church], I found that the church had been broken into, items were missing and others damaged, as well as there being a dead deer lying in the front of the church through the actors' process of dragging the deer into the church."
During Monday's hearings, Kraus explained that the identities of the defendants had been determined through anonymous tips.
Chicola was sentenced to incarceration at the Elk County Prison for a period of no less than six and no more than 24 months, followed by 24 months' probation.
Gier was sentenced to incarceration at the Elk County Prison for a period of no less than four and no more than 24 months, followed by 24 months' probation.
Vanvoorhis was sentenced to incarceration for a period of no less than four months to no more than 24 months. For the criminal mischief offense, he was placed on probation for a period of 24 months to be served consecutively to his incarceration.
All three defendants were granted work release provided they had no outstanding bench warrants or detainers. The defendants were also ordered to pay restitution joint and several in the amount of $500 to Gardner Hill Church, $1,952.87 to Erie Insurance, and $1,392.34 to William Michelini of Force.
Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, May 8, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.