64-year-old Stephen Shesko of Seward pleaded guilty yesterday to involuntary manslaughter in the 2008 death of a Belsano man whom he beat when the victim challenged a group of bear hunters to fight. Judge William Martin sentenced Shesko to five years of probation with no time in prison, and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and $4,545 in court costs. In exchange for the guilty plea, District Attorney Pat Dougherty dropped a charge of aggravated assault.
28-year-old Erick Melius was in a van that drove up to the group of over two dozen hunters in Buffington Township and he started yelling at them, specifically making fun of an Amish boy. Shesko went over to the van and punched Melius through the open window. The van drove off, but returned five minutes later and Melius got out this time, trying to punch another hunter, but Shesko ran over to him and punched him again, knocking him down, and then he punched and kicked him repeatedly as other hunters tried to pull him away.
Melius later sought treatment at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center but left against the advice of his doctor, and was found dead in his home two days later.
Shesko was originally charged with criminal homicide, but that was withdrawn after toxicology tests showed drugs may have contributed to Melius’ death. He was then charged with aggravated assault, and for the next three years was the subject of numerous hearings about his competency to stand trial because of his disabilities and his post traumatic stress disorder from his service in Vietnam.
Melius’ family asked for the maximum sentence of five years in prison, but Judge Martin took into account Shesko’s medical condition, age, and his service in Vietnam in deciding upon probation only.