Vignola Jr.'s sentence extended for lying about hazing

Posted: March 09, 2011

In November, Joseph C. Vignola Jr. told a tale of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a brutal period of hazing by fellow cadets at Valley Forge Military Academy.

That story, buttressed by testimony from a forensic psychologist, persuaded Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes to sentence him to just two to four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to slashing the throat of an escort in 2008 and leaving her for dead.

On Tuesday, that same story earned Vignola, 21, son and namesake of the former city controller and councilman, an extension of his prison term - to nine to 26 years - after a prosecutor said academy records showed no evidence of hazing or the medical care Vignola said he needed.

Hughes told Vignola that he lied to her and had tried to "play the court" with his claim of PTSD.

Vignola, a baby-faced man with a pencil-thin mustache and buzz-cut hair, said nothing at the hearing.

His father and mother seemed stunned.

In November, Eileen Vignola moaned and collapsed in court at the original sentence. On Tuesday, she tried to speak out, but was silenced by her husband, who put his hand over her mouth.

The Vignolas left court without comment. Their son's attorney, Norris E. Gelman, said no decision had been made about an appeal and declined further comment.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Foster, whose reconsideration motion resulted in the new sentence, said he was pleased, adding that it reflected the seriousness of the May 28, 2008, attack at a City Avenue hotel where the 18-year-old escort almost died.

"This was a vicious, vicious attack," Foster said.

The incident at the North American Motor Inn left the escort with her throat slashed and unconscious from massive blood loss.

Police were led to the younger Vignola because he had used his father's cell phone to arrange the tryst, which took place just three days before his 19th birthday.

Vignola originally blamed the attack on a black intruder who he said burst into the room. Ultimately, he admitted he and the escort had argued after sex, and he had punched her unconscious, slashed her throat, took the cash he had paid her, and left.

Foster had asked Hughes to sentence Vignola to 12 to 24 years in prison. Gelman had sought a probationary sentence with the first year at a community treatment center.

Instead, Hughes sentenced Vignola to two to four years, citing his history of emotional problems and his tale of extreme physical hazing at Valley Forge, including one incident in which Vignola said fellow cadets threw him through an upper-story window.

She also ordered Vignola to pay $10,000 to his victim for counseling and plastic surgery on the six-inch purple scar that runs from throat to ear.

Foster said Valley Forge records contained no evidence of hazing.

At an earlier hearing, Foster noted Eileen Vignola's long-running, cordial e-mail correspondence with academy officials. Foster said he doubted that Eileen Vignola, a tireless advocate for her son, would have maintained the relationship if she knew her son was being brutalized.


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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