Phila. man charged in killing almost 38 years after shots were fired

Domingo Negron was charged with homicide in the 1973 shooting that led to the death of Joseph Kwiatkowski.
Domingo Negron was charged with homicide in the 1973 shooting that led to the death of Joseph Kwiatkowski.
Posted: February 24, 2011

Joseph Kwiatkowski was 18 that Mother's Day afternoon in 1973 when someone raced up to the door of his sister's house and said, "Your brother is getting beaten up."

Kwiatkowski, a high school senior, ran down to the corner to help his brothers, William and John. Those were the last steps he took.

Gunfire erupted in the crime-ridden Warminster Heights neighborhood. A bullet found Kwiatkowski's spine, paralyzing him from the chest down.

After 36 years of medical struggles, he died in Florida in 2009 at 54.

Wednesday, almost 38 years after the shooting, a Philadelphia man who already served prison time for shooting Kwiatkowski was charged with homicide.

After a 14-month investigation, a Bucks County grand jury recommended that Domingo Lopez Negron, 58, be held accountable for the life of a victim who took nearly four decades to die.

A medical examiner in Florida determined that Kwiatkowski's death ultimately was caused by the bullet that lodged between his ninth and 10th thoracic vertebrae on May 13, 1973, the grand jury presentment said.

The charge is reminiscent of a widely publicized but unsuccessful Philadelphia case involving a city police officer who died 41 years after being shot and paralyzed in 1966.

Former Officer Walter Barclay died in 2007 of blood poisoning, which prosecutors said was a direct result of the long-ago shooting. But a jury decided otherwise, and last year acquitted Barclay's now-elderly assailant - who had served 16 years for the shooting - of murder.

In that case, defense attorneys successfully argued that too many other problems - car crashes, wheelchair accidents, and alleged abuse by his caretakers - had befallen Barclay after the shooting to allow prosecutors to tie his death to his gunshot wound.

Bucks County Deputy District Attorney David Zellis said Kwiatkowski's decades of physical misery, and ultimately his death, happened without any additional medical complications.

"He didn't have cancer, he didn't have any other things that might have been responsible for his death," Zellis said. "This gunshot wound caused his death, even though it was 37 years ago."

Ian Hood, a local forensic pathologist, told the grand jury that Kwiatkowski's chronic health issues and death were caused by his paralysis, a direct result of the shooting, the presentment said.

Negron's lawyer, William Craig Penglase, echoed the defense argument in the Barclay case. "Too many intervening acts happened between the time the bullet was fired and the time of the ultimate death for us to call this case a homicide," he said.

Negron, who surrendered to police Wednesday afternoon, did not speak to reporters. Despite having been convicted of assault and firearms charges in 1973, he denies firing the shot that wounded Kwiatkowski, Penglase said.

Negron was sentenced to serve one to three years in prison in that case. Negron also received five years of probation for attempted homicide in 1977 for an unrelated stabbing, Zellis said at Negron's preliminary arraignment Wednesday.

Based on that criminal record and the seriousness of the homicide charge, District Judge Daniel J. Finello set Negron's bail at $2 million.

Penglase said Negron, a father of four, worked in warehouses for many years until a workplace injury left him disabled.

According to grand jury testimony, the long-ago shooting was the result of simmering tensions between whites and Hispanics in the Warminster Heights development.

One of Kwiatkowski's brothers, William, told the grand jury he had argued with and punched a Hispanic drug dealer a few days before the shooting.

On the day of the shooting, William and John Kwiatkowski were standing at Downey and Van Horn Drives when a car pulled up, William Kwiatkowski told the grand jury. Four men jumped out, and started beating the brothers with clubs and kicking them, he said.

William Kwiatkowski said Negron ran back to the car, retrieved a gun and began shooting, wounding John Kwiatkowski, a friend of the Kwiatkowskis', and Joseph Kwiatkowski, who had come to help his brothers.


Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or lking@phillynews.com.

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