Judge rejects Pistorius comparison, gives stiff prison term in murder plot
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The attorney for a man who tried to have six people burned alive begged a federal judge for leniency Friday, saying South African athlete Oscar Pistorius got only five years in prison for killing his girlfriend.
“We’re not in South Africa,” responded U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo before sentencing Zenon Grzegorczyk to 17 years in prison.
Grzegorczyk, 51, admitted to trying to buy grenades, AK-47s and pistols for pals in his homeland of Poland. Then he told undercover federal agents that he wanted to hire them to kill six people he blamed for breaking up his marriage.
In 2012, he met the agents at a McDonald’s restaurant where he gave them $3,000 and showed them another $42,000 he promised to pay once the deed was done.
He wanted the agents to burn six people alive, including a friend of his ex-wife and the woman’s child, before a June 2012 wedding, authorities said.
“Grab them, go some quiet place, then burn them,” he was recorded as telling the undercover agents.
Grzegorczyk didn’t want his ex-wife dead because he wanted her to suffer the loss of her friends, officials said.
Before he was sentenced for the unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot, Grzegorczyk told the judge through a Polish interpreter: “I would like to apologize to everybody for everything that happened.”
Grzegorczyk, a truck driver and home rehabber, became a U.S. citizen after emigrating from Poland as a young man. His attorney, Andrea Gambino, said he was a “good and loving and generous person” who continues to maintain contact with his former wife and her son.
Gambino said she didn’t think Grzegorczyk was serious about carrying out the plot.
“That’s ridiculous,” replied prosecutor Matthew Schneider, pointing out that Grzegorczyk met three times with undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Grzegorczyk showed the agents photos of the intended victims and even used a codename — drywall — for the murders, Schneider said. The incriminating conversations were secretly recorded, he said.
“The defendant was very calculating,” Schneider said.
Gambino urged the judge to give Grzegorczyk a sentence of no more than 10 years in prison.
She noted that Grzegorczyk was sexually assaulted in a federal lockup while his case was pending, adding to his fear of serving time behind bars.
But Bucklo said the crime was too serious to give Grzegorczyk a break.
“Other than a successful murder, it doesn’t really get any more serious,” she said.