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Grucza sentenced to 25 years for Toys R Us murder

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Bernard Grucza, the admitted killer of Toys R Us manager Laurence Wells, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years probation. Instead of going to trial on a more serious charge,Grucza pleaded guilty to Manslaughter in the First Degree. He was originally charged with second-degree murder. Justice Penny Wolfgang gave him the maximum sentence.

Grucza did not speak in court, but his attorney said that the 39-year-old man was in a "desperate financial situation" in the early morning of June 29, 2013 when he entered the Toys-R-Store in Hamburg and fatally stabbed Wells, an assistant manager at the McKinley Parkway store, in his office.

Before sentencing in State Supreme Court in Buffalo Thursday, Wells' widow Jill Wells addressed the court.

"I lost my husband, my best friend, the man who I love so much. We were supposed to grow old together, raise our children together and watch them grow up. But instead, he was taken from us. Our daughter, who was four at the time, lost the best father she could have. They did everything together. She doesn't understand how someone could take her father from her," Wells said.

Grucza was a loss prevention officer at the store. Prosecutors say he was attempting to steal money when he encountered Wells unexpectedly around 4:30 a.m. After the killing, Grucza was seen consoling employees at the scene of the crime.

DNA evidence from a baseball hat left at the scene led to Grucza's arrest in October 2013, nearly four months after the killing.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III says proving intent to murder would have been difficult, leading to the manslaughter plea. Prosecutors say the plea also spared Wells' family from the difficulties of enduring a trial.