Pa. killer sentenced to life in prison

Murderer: 'They lost a child...I am going to die in jail'

By Jill Harmacinski 
The Eagle-Tribune

LAWRENCE, Pa. — Before he was sentenced to life in prison, Jose Hernandez apologized to the family of Roberto Plaza, a 32-year-old Lawrence man he shot and killed after a drug deal went bad.

“They lost a child and I lost my family...i am going to die in jail. But I ask for your forgiveness and I hope they can forgive me,” said Hernandez, 53, in Salem Superior Court.

Found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder, Hernandez yesterday was sentenced to life in prison at MCI Cedar Junction without the possibility of parole. Judge David Lowy sentenced Hernandez, noting the murder was “senseless violence” and “inexplicable.” Lowy also said “the evidence of guilty in this case was overwhelming.”

Hernandez was charged with murder after police responded to a report of a car crash at 490 Hampshire St. at 9:30 p.m. on June 7, 2009.

Plaza, 32, of 281 Bruce St., was found in the car with a gunshot wound to his chest. He was rushed for Lawrence General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Family members had said Plaza was trying to find the drug Seroquel, which helped him sleep. Police described the circumstances surrounding Plaza’s death as a drug deal gone bad.

Erika Gaznik, the mother of Plaza’s 10-year-old daughter, told Lowy the murder devastated her. She described June 7, 2009, as “the hardest day of my life. I got a call in the morning that the father of my daughter was dead.” Gaznik spoke of how difficult it was “to tell my daughter she was never to see her father again.”

“Since that day I had to go on medication because I am severely depressed and have really bad anxiety,” Gaznik said. “It destroyed all of us. His family, my family. All of us.”

Plaza’s sister Jackie said her brother’s death also changed her and her family forever. There is not a day her mother doesn’t cry and her sister doesn’t sleep.

“We are not the same anymore,” Jackie Plaza said. She said he hopes to see her brother again someday in heaven.

Plaza was the city’s fourth murder victim in 2009.


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