EBENSBURG – Larry Fason of Johnstown was sentenced Tuesday to life in state prison without the possibility of parole for the 2017 murder of 32-year-old Angela Lunn.
In July, a Cambria County jury found Fason, 57, guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated assault for Lunn's death.
During sentencing, Fason told President Judge Norman Krumenacker III he was innocent.
"I'm sorry my friend is gone, but I didn't kill her," Fason said.
Fason's attorney, Charles Hoebler, of Pittsburgh, told Krumenacker a pre-sentence report about Fason's background and criminal record should include the fact that he has cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
Fason's trial lasted approximately a week, as jurors heard from more than a dozen witnesses called by prosecutors.
The jury also visited Fason's former apartment at 91 Messenger St. in the Hornerstown section of Johnstown, near where police discovered Lunn's body in a trash shelter on Nov. 5, 2017.
Video surveillance obtained by city police showed what they say was Fason disposing of evidence in a trash bin near the apartment and him dragging Lunn's body down the back stairs from his apartment to the trash shelter.
Fason took the stand during trial and said Lunn showed up injured at his apartment.
He testified that he eventually asked Lunn to leave after he said she dumped cigarette ashes on his floor, left rags he provided for her to clean the blood from her injuries on the floor, and broke a pot he was growing marijuana plants in.
Fason said Lunn then came at him and bit his finger, and he pushed her off of him, which caused her to fall and hit her head in the hallway of his apartment.
Fason testified that he walked Lunn down the stairs and that she fell backward on the flight of stairs to the second-floor landing. Fason said Lunn stumbled again and eventually hit her head on a brick pillar near the bottom of the stairs.
He said he assisted Lunn to the nearby trash shelter and told her he would see her the next day.
“I thought she was OK,” he said. “I didn’t know she was hurt that bad. I thought she was going to walk home.”
Fason said he lied to police because he thought they’d presume him guilty as a black man in a case involving a white female victim.
He testified that he was nervous, scared, in shock and distrustful of police when he was questioned and “didn’t want (police) to think I pushed (Lunn) down the stairs.”
A rebuttal witness called by prosecutors – accident reconstructionist and biomechanical engineer Dr. Andrew Rentschler – said Lunn’s injuries were inconsistent with a backward or forward fall down the stairs, whether she was pushed or not.
Jurors also heard from Dr. Kevin Whaley, a forensic pathologist with ForensicDx in Windber, who testified that a fracture to Lunn’s skull would have impacted her brain stem and caused “instantaneous loss of consciousness.”
Whaley, who reviewed the autopsy performed on Lunn, said Lunn experienced multiple skull fractures and broken ribs that punctured one of her lungs and ruptured her spleen. Any of those injuries could be lethal, Whaley said.
Lunn's mother, Rosemarie Pacenti, drove from Connecticut to attend the sentencing, and asked Krumenacker to place Fason in solitary confinement in state prison – "because I want him to know what it feels like to wake up every day knowing you'll never see her again."
Pacenti said she could not bring herself to attend the trial and see the photos of how her daughter was found by police, or hear details about Lunn's autopsy.
"Never let anyone tell you there's anything that hurts worse than losing a child," she said. "My heart was ripped from my body the day I spoke with the coroner's office. I could not believe what I was hearing. How could such evil exist?"
Pacenti said she prays often and has Fason on a prayer chain through her church, but is saddened that her two grandsons, Lunn's sons, will never know their mother.
"I will forgive (Fason) – only by God's grace – because as far as I'm concerned, he doesn't deserve my forgiveness," Pacenti said. "My daughter got her justice."
Shawn Young said he knew Lunn for 28 years and considered her a "feisty, little" sister.
Young told Fason he didn't wish him harm, only consequences for his actions.
"All the evidence faces toward you," Young said. "This is not a black or white thing, this is about a beautiful person gone too soon. What you did, I'll never forgive you for. But you will get what you deserve."
Krumenacker told Fason that Lunn's death was one of the most brutal he's seen during his time first as a public defender and then as a judge for 20 years.
"The verdict is clearly supported by the evidence," he said.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan, who prosecuted the case along with assistant district attorneys Erin Dominick and Kevin Persio, said Tuesday's sentence brought a time to reflect on Lunn's life and hear from her family.
"Life in prison without the possibility of parole is exactly what this case called for," Callihan said.