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Pa. abuser fined, not jailed, then killed his wife and son

Written by Ed Mahon/York Daily Record | Jun 22, 2017 1:05 PM
YDR_PFA_abuse.jpg

Members of the Klein family seen here: Eric Klein (back), and then from left to right, his sister Bethiney Klein, mother Suzanne Klein and father Robert Klein. Bethiney's son is in the front. On June 24, 2016, Robert Klein fatally shot Suzanne and Eric, and then killed himself. (Photo: Submitted)

The York Daily Record looked at all 159 protection-from-abuse violation cases filed in the York County Court of Common Pleas in 2016. This video is part of the package "One man, 14 violations: Why can't Pa. protect his victim?" found at watchdog.ydr. Sean Heisey, York Daily Record

 

(Undated) -- Bethiney Klein thinks a 30-day jail sentence could have saved the lives of her mother, her 27-year-old brother and the man who killed them, her father, Robert Klein. 

But Robert Klein, who could have been jailed for up to six months for violating a protection-from-abuse order, instead was fined.

Days later, he shot and killed his wife, son and himself in Johnstown, about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Suzanne, 48, and Eric Klein were two of 102 victims who lost their lives in domestic violence incidents in 2016 across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Suzanne's obituary described her as someone who "enjoyed crafts, spending time with her grandchildren, and the company of her two dogs." Eric enjoyed fishing, spending time with his family and watching hockey, according to his obituary. 

The deaths represent a worst-case scenario for PFA violation cases, and they show how seemingly routine decisions can lead to tragic outcomes. The case was one of about a dozen recent examples of PFA orders failing to protect people that was cited in a November 2016 report from a research agency for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The report made several recommendations to improve PFA and domestic violence laws.

Robert and Suzanne Klein had been together for decades. But Robert, 51, was abusive, according to Deb Wilson, a domestic violence advocate in Cambria County. 

One night, in August 2015, Robert woke Suzanne up and told her he would kill her, Suzanne later said in court documents. He threw her against a dresser, hurting her arm, and he held scissors over her, Suzanne claimed. That night, she slept on the deck, she said.

She said she didn't call the police, because he said he would kill her. The threatening behavior continued, and in May 2016, he again said he would kill her and himself, Suzanne said.

She sought help. On May 9, 2016, a judge in Cambria County approved a final PFA order against Robert.

Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III said Robert was prohibited from having any contact with Suzanne. Robert was allowed to pick up some belongings from their home on a set date. But otherwise, he was supposed to stay away from the home.

He wasn't allowed to possess firearms or ammunition while the order was in effect. If he violated the order, he could face up to a $1,000 fine, in addition to the possible six-month jail sentence.

But weeks later, Robert ignored the court order and passed a note to Suzanne, through Bethiney, saying they needed to be together and he would do anything to be with her. He was charged with violating the PFA order on June 3, 2016.

Suzanne thought the hearing about two weeks later "was going to be her break," Bethiney said.

At the hearing, Krumenacker found Robert in contempt of the PFA order and fined him.

Ryan Gleason, the former chief public defender in Cambria County, represented Robert. Gleason said Robert had no violent criminal record, and the nature of Robert's violation typically would lead to "a stern warning," instead of a significant jail sentence.

Bethiney said the judge "failed my mother." After the hearing, Suzanne was mad and feared for her life, Bethiney said.

Wilson, an advocate with the Women's Help Center in Cambria County, said Robert was stalking Suzanne before the violation hearing, and he continued to do so. Wilson told Suzanne to create a log of all the events, so police could file other criminal charges against Robert.

But nine days after the PFA violation hearing, Robert showed up at Suzanne's home. He shot her and his 27-year-old son, Eric, and then himself. All three died.

Robert Klein wasn't allowed to possess a gun because of the final PFA order against him. But he stole one from another son, according to Johnstown police Capt. Chad Miller. The son had the gun in a safe, according to Heath Long, first assistant district in the county.

Krumenacker declined an interview request, saying he didn't believe there was anything he could add beyond what was in the public record. He did provide an additional document in the case, which was a notice provided to Robert stating that he was prohibited from possessing firearms.

Bethiney, 31, thinks that about a month in jail for her father would have given her mother time to take more safety precautions and to figure out what to do next.

Jail time could have been a wake-up call for her father, Bethiney thinks. She said it might have "made him see how it would be like without his family, and that would have made him more sorry than anything."

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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