D.a.: Neighbor's Death Was Manslaughter Paul Bellina Was Charged With Shooting Craig Holtzman After He No Longer Was A Threat.

Posted: September 27, 2000

Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. charged an Upper Gwynedd man with voluntary manslaughter yesterday in the shooting death of a naked neighbor who, he told police, appeared to be trying to break into his townhouse.

Castor said he decided to bring the charges after concluding that Paul Bellina, 52, had continued to fire at neighbor Craig Holtzman even after Holtzman was fleeing. The final shot was fired downward at Holtzman's head as he lay on the ground, mortally wounded, according to Castor's reconstruction.

"I came to conclude beyond any doubt that the fatal rounds were fired outside, when Holtzman was incapable of providing any threat," Castor said at a news conference.

The incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. Sept. 13, when, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case, the 31-year-old Holtzman, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent, left the basement of his parents' home to urinate outside. He then mistakenly tried to enter Bellina's home, which has a basement door identical to theirs.

Unable to enter and having sounded a burglar alarm, Holtzman turned to walk away. That is when Bellina unlocked and opened the door, ordering Holtzman to put his hands up and lie down on the ground.

Holtzman put his hands up, the affidavit said, but then began walking toward Bellina, disoriented and ignoring his requests to stop and get down. As Bellina backed into his basement, Holtzman followed him. There, officials believe, Bellina shot Holtzman twice with his 9mm Ruger handgun.

After being hit, Holtzman uttered, "Ouch," and then turned and fled, only to be shot twice in the back and once in the arm, Castor said. Following him, Castor said, Bellina shot Holtzman three more times, in the head. Bellina hit Holtzman with a total of eight shots, the affidavit states.

Bellina, a Vietnam veteran, has said he was protecting himself, his girlfriend, and her 10-year-old daughter, who were in the house. He told police that he simply "kept firing until the threat was dead," the affidavit states.

But, according to Castor, the legal line from self-defense to manslaughter was crossed when Bellina stepped outside his door. "At this point, Holtzman is no longer a threat to him. Holtzman is fleeing and probably mortally wounded, and therefore there is no permission under Pennsylvania law to use deadly force," the district attorney said.

Under Pennsylvania's criminal statutes, a person commits voluntary manslaughter if, at the time of the killing, he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation.

Bellina's attorney, Patrick J. McMenamin Jr. of Montgomeryville, rejected Castor's conclusion. "It was absolutely a case of self-defense," McMenamin said after Bellina's arraignment on manslaughter and reckless-endangerment charges in Blue Bell before District Justice Patricia Zaffarano. "I think the evidence will show that he was afraid."

After posting 10 percent of $30,000 bail, Bellina declined to comment except to ask reporters to get out of the way of his van. A preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Tuesday. If convicted at trial, Bellina could be sentenced to a maximum of 22 years on both charges.

Bellina, who owns a home-inspection business, has said that he did not know Holtzman, an assembler of gym equipment who had recently moved in with his parents, whose townhouse is next door to Bellina's on Browning Court in Upper Gwynedd's Gwynedale neighborhood, off Sumneytown Pike near South Broad Street.

According to the affidavit, however, Holtzman's brother Eric told police that the men had met when Craig Holtzman had discussed buying Bellina's motorcycle.

There was no answer at either the Holtzman or Bellina residence yesterday.

The decision to charge Bellina came after two weeks of speculation while authorities awaited the results of toxicology, ballistics and forensics tests. Castor had initially believed the shooting to be justified and said again yesterday that he believed Bellina felt he was justified in his actions.

At least one legal expert said he was not surprised by Castor's decision. "I can understand under all the circumstances why a prosecutor might think he has to file charges," said Leonard Packel, a criminal-law professor at Villanova University Law School. "But I don't know what a jury will do," he said.

Castor acknowledged that his decision would likely be second-guessed.

"I think that there will be great speculation now and in the months to come," Castor said, "but I am confident that, under Pennsylvania law, this is the correct decision."

Erin Carroll's e-mail address is ecarroll@phillynews.com

* Jason Wermers of the Inquirer suburban staff contributed to this article.

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