It’s been nearly five years since Joseph Lawrence was shot dead in his Cheektowaga driveway following an argument with a person who was supposed to be a friend, and already the man convicted in his death is up for parole.
In 2015 Thomas Szezcniak was found guilty of manslaughter.
He shot and killed Lawrence in the driveway of the Cheektowaga home where Szezcniak was the landlord and Lawrence was the tenant.
Szezcniak, who had been drinking, pulled a gun during an argument an act that Lawrence’s sister, Heather Shields, still sees as intentional.
“By definition, manslaughter in the second degree has to involve an accident, and we never viewed this crime as being an accident,” Shields said.
The Lawrences were shocked when a judge sentenced Szezcniak to second degree manslaughter, a conviction that carries a sentence of five to ten years in prison.
Shields didn’t understand the decision then.
“in my mind, it would have been manslaughter 1, at the least. But I want Judge Wolfgang to put herself in our position and ask herself how she would feel if this were her child that was taken,” Shields added.
She’s reminded of that disappointment as Szezcniak’s parole hearing nears and is still angry that Szezcniak’s use of alcohol may have lightened his sentence.
Shields and her family suffer from fear and anxiety in the aftermath of Lawrence’s death, worried if the convicted criminal would come after them if he gets out.
It came out in the bench trial that Szezcniak said accusingly on the day of the crime that he’d ‘shoot first and ask questions later.’
Shields says, “there are people out there who have received longer sentences for selling pot on the street.”
She’s following senator Patrick Gallivan’s proposal to only allow criminals convicted of homicide a chance at parole every five years instead of every two.
Right now if Szezcniak is denied parole, Shields and her family will have to relive the death of their brother again in just 24 months.
Gallivan is aware of similar legislation in the assembly. Assemblyman Joe Giglio has introduced a bill called “Ramona’s Law,” which would include criminals convicted of other violent crimes, such as rape.
“I’ll be meeting with the people involved with that this week in Albany, that might enable people to have some kind of peace before they’re able to address this issue again,” Shields says.
Szezcniak’s parole hearing is scheduled for mid-June.