Bond cut rejected in Connellsville priest’s beating

| March 31, 2010

A church business manager, who briefly studied for the priesthood and is accused of beating a Connellsville priest with an ax handle, was denied a bond reduction Tuesday, despite fellow parishioners' assertions he is peaceful and law-abiding.

Kevin Michael Labuda, 46, of Connellsville is in the Fayette County Prison in lieu of $500,000 straight cash bond on allegations he repeatedly beat the Rev. Joseph Bonafed in the head because he feared he would lose his job.

Police said Labuda told them he used keys he had taken from a nun to enter the locked rectory at Immaculate Conception Church on East Crawford Avenue at 9:15 p.m. March 3, where he hid behind a door until Bonafed arrived. Bonafed, an administrator for three parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, testified yesterday he was struck repeatedly in the head, with the blows continuing even after he fell to the floor.

Labuda, and his attorney, David Reiss of Connellsville, appeared before Judge Steve Leskinen yesterday to ask for a bond reduction.

Labuda testified he took a job as business manager for Immaculate Conception and partner parishes St. Rita and St. John the Evangelist in 2008, shortly after he was let go from a seminary school in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Labuda testified he had been accepted into the seminary to study for the priesthood, but he was asked to leave after less than two weeks because of serious injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident. He said the school advised him they couldn't accommodate his needs, which included use of a wheelchair during a portion of his recovery.

As Bonafed sat in the courtroom to await his turn to testify, six of Labuda's fellow parishioners yesterday testified that Labuda had a reputation as a peaceful, law-abiding person before the allegations. All six said they believe Labuda's reputation has not been tarnished by the allegations.

"Most of the people I know say they like Kevin. They think he's pretty friendly and law-abiding," testified Helen Rugg of Dunbar Township.

Others testified Labuda was a member of the church choir and Holy Name Society, and he assisted with the parish's Christian Mother's group.

Bonafed testified that he believes the opposite is true.

"People have expressed to me that they're very scared," Bonafed told the judge. "There are people on my staff who are very scared."

Bonafed said he feels that Labuda's reputation since the incident is "completely changed from what you've heard today. They're scared of him. People do not feel he is a law-abiding citizen."

Reiss argued that Labuda's bail is higher than would normally be set in cases with similar charges. He pointed out that an 82-year-old Connellsville woman has offered to allow Labuda to stay with her, and that a number of Labuda's friends have promised to move his belongings out of an apartment he had been living in at St. Rita's parish.

Reiss said Labuda, who is divorced with three grown children, would stay away from the priest and other church staffers.

Leskinen denied the bond reduction, indicating the likelihood Labuda will be convicted, based on testimony he heard yesterday. In addition, Leskinen said he is concerned because the beating appears to have no explanation, especially considering Labuda's upstanding reputation prior to the incident.

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Category: Church Security