Lightcap guilty of two counts in Stringer beating death

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated a little less then four hours to find George T. Lightcap IV of Nanty Glo guilty of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the beating death of Ray E. Stringer, a Tyrone fire chief.
Lightcap was not guilty of first and third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the trial that stemmed from an incident last August at the Nanty Glo VFW.
Lightcap was accused of hitting the Neptune Fire Chief in a bar brawl at the Loy A. Douglas Post 3489, VFW in the early morning hours of August 19, 2005.
Before the case went to the jury, the 30-year-old Lightcap took the stand in his own defense.
With tears rolling down his cheeks, and at time unable to speak because of crying, Lightcap told how he and his girlfriend, Natalie Kasecky, had begun to celebrate the seventh anniversary of being a couple the evening of Aug. 18.
Lightcap said they first went to a firemen\’s convention beer tent that was set up behind the Nanty Glo Fire Hall. Between 11 and 11:30 p.m., they then went to the VFW.
The defendant said he was there to finalize arrangements for him and his musical group to play for a VFW function at the Nanty Glo Park and Pool on Saturday.
Some of Lightcap\’s testimony was corroborated by testimony given by witnesses earlier in the trial.
Others had said they had heard slapping of hands on the bar, and Lightcap said he had done a rap-a-tap-tap, like a drum roll. “I often do that,” he said. “I am a musician.”
His sister, Michelle Lightcap, was one of the barmaids on duty that night and she told him to stop. “I did it twice then quit,” Lightcap testified.
According to Lightcap, shortly after he did his second drum roll a man standing behind him said, “You think you are a tough guy? You think you are (expletive) tough?”
The man, who was identified as Stringer, was told by the barmaid to stop the foul language. Lightcap testified that the man always came alongside him when he came to the bar for another drink and that the challenges to fight continued along with the offers to go outside. Finally, Lightcap\’s fiancée went up to Stringer and told him to stop. He poked her in the chest with his finger, and she left and went back to her bar stool.
Finally, the barmaid told Stringer to leave and even took him to the door leading to the foyer of the bar. Stringer left, Lightcap said, but came back into the bar. It was then that Stringer struck Lightcap in the face. It was at this point that the barmaid told Stringer to leave and that he was shut off. Stringer left the bar area and went out into the foyer, Lightcap said. At the suggestion of his fiancée, Lightcap and Kasecky began to leave, he said. When they got to the doorway and began to enter the foyer, Stringer struck Lightcap again and that is when Lightcap struck Stringer once, he said.
Lightcap, still crying at times, said he walked back into the bar and then finally left and went to a friend\’s house. His fiancée went on to her home. Lightcap later called her and the two of them returned to the VFW. He was then taken into custody and brought to the police station. Lightcap was taken to Memorial Medical Center where he was examined and given a blood alcohol test before being taken to the Cambria County Prison.
Asked by his attorney how he felt about the incident, Lightcap said, “I\’m very sorry, (but) there was nothing else I could have done.”
After the defense concluded questioning Lightcap, Assistant District Attorney Gary Costlow cross-examined him. Costlow pointed out that the first three witnesses for the Commonwealth, Frank Riglin, his fiancée, Penelope Neshteruk, both from Bellefonte, and John Cooper, a retired police officer and police chief all had testified that Lightcap had charged from his bar stool and traveled an estimated 25 feet with his arm raised and his fist clenched and struck Stringer.
These three people did not know the defendant and had no reason to lie. “Why do you think they said that?” Costlow asked the defendant. Lightcap said he did not raise his fist nor charge to the door and had no idea why the three people said what they did.
Costlow asked Lightcap why he did not stay at the bar as Neshteruk had suggested. Lightcap said he was afraid that Stringer might regain consciousness. “I just wanted to get out of there before this guy wakes up,” Lightcap said.
After Lightcap\’s 45-minute testimony was completed, defense attorney Robert Davis Gleason began closing comments. Gleason told the jury making a decision in a criminal homicide case is complex and difficult. The jury must rely on facts of the case. “No emotions should be considered,” Gleason told the jury. He touched briefly on the various charges the jury could consider: criminal homicide, first degree murder, third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and self-defense.
Gleason said the judge would go over each of these type of crimes in more detail when he charged the jury later. Gleason said that the 6-foot tall, 291-pound Stringer “was a bully, a behemoth, had a .20 alcohol level and was offensive in manner and demeanor.”
The defense attorney added, “George Lightcap could see he was going to have to defend himself.” The barmaid testified that Stringer delivered the first blow while in the bar and she shut him off and told him to leave.
“This is a classic barroom brawl.” Gleason said what Lightcap did was defend himself and therefore is not guilty.
Costlow countered: “Is there any doubt that Lightcap killed a man? We are down to the degree of homicide or not guilty. If you believe the Commonwealth witnesses that Lightcap charged across the bar area to the door with his arm raised and his fist clenched and hit Mr. Stringer, then you must find him guilty and determine the degree of guilt.”
Using photographs of Stringer\’s face to show the broken nose and badly cut and swollen eye, Costlow reminded the jury of what the pathologist said concerning the number of blows to Stringer face.
Dr. John Yerger said that the damage to Stringer\’s face could have been caused by one blow but in his opinion there was more then one blow, Costlow said. He then briefly went over the various types of charges and said that the judge would go over them in more detail when he charged the jury.
Judge Norman Krumenacker spent almost an hour explaining the various degrees of murder and what was needed to find a person guilty of that particular degree. He also reviewed with the jury the definitions of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, criminal homicide and aggravated assault and then sent the jury to begin their deliberation reminding them that it takes all 12 of them- not a mere majority- to agree to a charge and have a true verdict.
On two occasions, the jury asked the judge to once again review the legal definition of malice, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. They returned a second time questioning if aggravated assault was a separate charge and then for a second review of the legal definitions of it.
Beginning their deliberations at around 4 p.m., and taking 45 minutes for an evening meal, the jury began deliberation.
They announced at 8 p.m. that they had a verdict. They found Lightcap guilty of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Krumenacker told Lightcap he would have a pre-sentence assessment prepared and would pass sentence later. Lightcap was returned to Cambria County Prison.
Gleason made a motion for a new trial and an arrest of judgment. When asked how he felt about the verdict, Gleason said, “You always hope for a complete acquittal… We are pleased that the jury returned the verdict they did… When the lowest form of verdict is received, you are always satisfied.” Gleason said the sentence for involuntary manslaughter is two and one-half to five years.
Costlow said the Commonwealth is satisfied that he was convicted of the aggravated assault charge, commenting, “That is a first-degree felony, and he should get four to six years.”
Ray Stringer’s brother, Tim Stringer, told The Daily Herald this morning, “We were disappointed with the result. We are glad there was some sort of a conviction.”
He said he hoped the jury would have found Lightcap guilty of one of the more serious charges.
“You never know what’s going to happen when a jury’s involved,” said Tim Stringer.
Ray Stringer was 43-years-old at the time of his death and had served since 1990 as Neptune Fire Chief.