Superior Court upholds lengthy sentence in Connellsville woman’s 2013 killing
A state appellate court this week rejected a Fayette County man’s claim that his 29 1/- to-67-year sentence for the brutal murder of a 52-year-old woman in Connellsville in 2013 was “manifestly unreasonable.”
Paul Jerome Bannasch, 29, had asked state Superior Court to overturn the January sentence by Judge John Wagner for his role in the killing of Margaret “Peggy Sue” Kriek. On appeal, Bannasch argued that his sentences on additional counts of unlawful restraint, kidnapping and abuse of a corpse “should have been merged” into a single, 20-to-40-year sentence received on his guilty plea to third-degree murder.
Instead, Wagner added the additional terms to run consecutively, extending Bannasch’s sentence to 29 1/- to-67-years, making it a “virtual life sentence,” Bannasch maintained in his appeal.
“(Wagner) abused his discretion by imposing a harsh, severe and manifestly unreasonable and excessive sentence by sentencing (Bannasch) to the maximum term allowable by law for each offense and by running each offense in a consecutive order,” Bannasch contended in his appeal.
However, the Superior Court panel disagreed.
“We do not find that (Bannasch’s) aggregate sentence was excessive given the criminal conduct at issue in this case, and thus has failed to raise a substantial question warranting review of the discretionary aspect of his consecutive sentences,” the court ruled in its 11-page opinion written by Judge Eugene B. Strassburger, and joined by judges Judy Olson and Maria Mclaughlin.
State police said that Bannasch and co-defendant Craig Allen Rugg, 29, of Connellsville, beat, sexually assaulted and strangled Margaret “Peggy Sue” Kriek in June of 2013 after meeting her at Sidewinders bar.
According to the criminal complaint, the two men had been drinking at the bar, and witnesses saw them near the Amtrak train platform with Kriek. Police found some of her clothes there, along with blood and drag marks leading toward the river.
Kriek’s nude body was found floating in the Youghiogheny River the next morning in Dunbar Township. State police charged Rugg and Bannasch with homicide.
In 2015, Kriek pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Kriek was the mother of two children and had five grandchildren.
In its opinion, the appellate court upheld Wagner’s decision that “(Bannasch’s) crimes did not merge because they did not arise from a single criminal act.”
“Accordingly, we find that the crimes of unlawful restraint and kidnapping, as charged, do not merge for sentencing. Thus, appellant’s legality-of-the-sentence claim fails,” the court ruled.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.