WILKES-BARRE — Handcuffed and shackled, a bearded James Edward Roche sat with his head down Friday morning as Luzerne County Judge Fred Pierantoni pronounced his sentence — two consecutive life sentences for the 2014 shooting deaths of 73-year-old Hunlock Creek resident Ronald “Barney” Evans and his 43-year-old son, Jeffrey Evans.
Roche, 33, was convicted in November of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, following three days of testimony and less than two hours of deliberation by the jury.
Prosecutors said Roche had long held a grudge against the elder Evans, who previously had an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with Roche’s girlfriend, 40-year-old Holly Ann Crawford. Crawford was convicted in September of identical charges for conspiring with and aiding Roche in the killings, and also received two consecutive life sentences.
Mary Ellen Evans, mother of victim Jeffrey Evans and former wife of Ronald “Barney” Evans, asked her friend, Barbara Muscovitch, to read a statement into the court record.
“Jeffrey was her only child,” Muscovitch said.
As she read Mrs. Evans’ statement, Muscovitch occasionally glanced toward Roche, who sat motionless at the defense table.
“The horrible, senseless and brutal death of my son Jeff has left me broken and empty inside. Every waking hour, my constant thoughts are about my only child, who was murdered and how his life was taken away from him and me,” Muscovitch read.
“May you live in hell with the memories of what you did to my son,” her statement read.
Ron Kukowski, whose wife is Ronald Evans’ sister and Jeffrey’s aunt, directed his comments at Roche, calling the convicted murderer an “assassin” and a “coward.” Kukowski said his family is devastated by Roche’s actions and he became emotional when he talked about how his wife would enjoy telephone conversations with her brother.
“Our house is quiet now,” he said.
Roche’s attorney, Paul Galante, asked the court to impose concurrent sentences for two counts of first-degree murder and also for the two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Pierantoni said he took everything into consideration when deciding Roche’s sentence.
“Drugs and alcohol are no excuse for what happened, but they did play a role in this matter,” Galante said.
Pierantoni gave Roche the same sentence he imposed on Crawford in December — two life sentences plus an additional 40 to 80 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, all to run consecutively.
Galante added that Roche, whom he called remorseful, wrote a “heartfelt letter” to the victims’ family and that he has no past criminal record.
After the sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Daniel Hollander said he was happy justice was served.
“This brings some closure to the victims’ family,” he said.
Pierantoni also ordered Roche to pay $42,032 in restitution.
During both trials, prosecutors said Crawford and Roche agreed to drive to Ronald Evans’ Hunlock Township home to confront him after a character in the movie “Boondock Saints” reminded Roche of the man with whom Crawford had a prior sexual relationship.
Once at the home, Crawford allegedly lured Evans to the door, where Roche shot him several times with a .22-caliber rifle. Roche claimed in a recorded statement to police that Evans was brandishing a pistol, which prompted him to open fire.
After proceeding into the house, he said, he shot Jeffrey Evans out of fear that he, too, was armed.
Autopsies showed the elder Evans was shot four times in the chest and torso and Jeffrey Evans was shot five times in the back.