Man admits beating Connellsville priest

| July 30, 2010

A church business manager accused of beating a Connellsville priest with an ax handle entered into a plea bargain Wednesday that calls for a two- to four-year prison sentence.

Kevin Labuda, 46, of Connellsville, who briefly studied for the priesthood, entered guilty pleas to charges of burglary and aggravated assault yesterday before Fayette County Judge Steve Leskinen. Terms of the plea bargain call for Labuda to serve one to two years in prison on the assault charge and two to four years for the burglary, with the sentences to be served concurrently, said Assistant District Attorney J.W. Eddy.

Labuda yesterday admitted that he used an ax handle to beat the Rev. Joseph Bonafed, a Monessen native, in the head because Labuda feared he would lose his job with Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church on East Crawford Avenue.

"Yes, sir," Labuda said when Leskinen asked him if his intention was to frighten the priest so he could retain his position.

Labuda did not comment further. His attorney, David Reiss of Connellsville, declined to comment after the hearing.

In a criminal complaint, police said Labuda told them he used keys he had taken from a nun to enter the church's locked rectory 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 during a bond-reduction hearing in March that he was struck repeatedly in the head, with the blows continuing even after he fell to the floor.

During that same hearing, 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.

In addition to burglary and assault, Labuda is charged by Connellsville police with criminal trespass, simple assault and reckless endangerment. Labuda did not enter pleas yesterday to those charges. It was unclear yesterday whether Labuda will enter guilty pleas to the charges with no additional sentence, or if prosecutors will drop them.

Bonafed suffered a large bruise on the back of his head and a cut to the front. He was treated in Uniontown Hospital, police said.

Bonafed could not be reached for comment yesterday. Spokesman Jerry Zufelt of the Greensburg Diocese said the victim was unaware of the plea bargain.

Labuda is lodged in the Fayette County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bond. He faces sentencing at 10 a.m. Aug. 11 before Leskinen.

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Category: Church Security

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