By Joe McDonald
STROUDSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania man involved in a long-running property dispute with local officials pleaded guilty on Friday in the fatal shooting of three people at a 2013 municipal meeting and was given three life terms in prison.
Rockne Newell, 61, of Saylorsburg, also received an additional 61 to 122 years in prison, prosecutors said.
E. David Christine Jr., the district attorney in Monroe County, called Newell an “animal” who belongs in prison. His lawyers said Newell has a history of mental illness.
Judge Joseph Cronin, a visiting judge from Delaware County, handed down the sentence after a rambling monologue by Newell, who repeated longstanding complaints that officials unfairly took away his property in the woods.
Newell lived alone in a ramshackle shed surrounded by piles of junk before he was evicted in a dispute over sewage. He had “specifically targeted the meeting because it was the only time he could get all the township supervisors and the solicitor in a single location,” state police said in court papers.
Outside the courtroom, Newell’s lawyer William Ruzzo said his client regrets the rampage and had asked his attorneys to convey his apologies to the families of his three victims.
On May 29, 2013, Newell came to the monthly meeting of the board of supervisors of Ross Township, about 90 north of Philadelphia in the Pocono Mountains. He fired 28 rounds from a rifle outside the building before returning to his rental car for a .44 Magnum handgun and blasting his way inside.
As he screamed, “you took my property,” Newell shot to death a zoning officer, David Fleetwood, 62, and two Saylorsburg residents, James LaGuardia, 64, and Gerard Kozic, 53. Kozic’s wife, Linda, was wounded in the leg and another person was injured.
In addition to three counts of first-degree murder, Newell was charged with attempted murder for shooting the two people who were injured.
The prosecutor said the families were “very happy” with the sentence that guarantees Newell will die in prison.
(Reporting By Frank McGurty; Editing by Doina Chiacu)