ON TRIAL — Pictured, from left: Bernard Grucza’s attorneys, Ian Harrington and Frank Housh, and Grucza. Photo by Paul McQuillen.
In his initial appearance in state supreme court, Toys R Us murder suspect Bernard “Bernie” Grucza was arraigned on Nov. 18, and ordered to be held without bail.
Grucza was arraigned for the death of Laurence “Larry” Wells in the Hamburg Toys R Us store. A plea of not guilty was entered by Grucza’s attorney, Frank Housh, on the defendant’s behalf.
Grucza, 38, most recently from Elma, was indicted for second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Wells in the early morning of June 29, when police said the suspect was surprised by Wells in the course of an attempted burglary in the store. Grucza, who was a regional loss prevention manager for Toys R Us, was arrested in the village of Allegany on Oct. 16, after a 16-week search.
In his appearance before State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang, Grucza was represented by Buffalo attorneys Housh and Ian Harrington.
Housh requested that bail be set for Grucza in the amount of $50,000, asserting that the circumstantial evidence in the case was insufficient to hold his client. Housh also said that his client was not a flight risk and that Grucza has significant ties to the community, including his home, his children and a father with whom he can reside.
The district attorney’s office, represented by James Bargnesi and Gary Hackbush of the DA’s homicide bureau, responded by citing the seriousness of the charge leveled against Grucza, the lengthy prison term to be imposed if he is convicted and the fact that he is barred from the family home, due to an order of protection that prevents him from living there.
An unrelated criminal matter is pending in the town of Elma, wherein Grucza has already entered a plea to one count of criminal possession of a weapon. That charge, a class B misdemeanor, is punishable by no more than 90 days in jail. That charge is the consequence of a domestic incident in the Grucza family home, during which Grucza has admitted possessing a weapon. As a result of that incident, Grucza was removed from the family home and his wife, Heather, was granted the order of protection.
Wolfgang denied Housh’s request for bail and ordered that Grucza continue to be held without bail. The defense was granted a 45-day adjournment for submission of pre-trial motions. Housh, declining to be specific, cited possible motions as standard criminal trial motions, including preclusion of evidence and statements made by the defendant.
Housh had previously indicated that he may seek a change of venue in the case, citing what he termed “prejudicial” statements regarding his client. He was referring to statements attributed to law enforcement personnel that appeared in The Buffalo News.
After the court appearance, Housh maintained that his client is not guilty, that “he did not commit the crime; he did not kill Larry Wells.” Housh again indicated that he would try this case “in a court of law and not in the press.”
Members of the Wells family were in the courtroom, but declined to make any statements.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Grucza would face a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Further proceedings in the case are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 23.