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John H. Bunz, the 94-year-old Amherst man who killed his wife with a hammer almost four years ago, has died, giving up the infamous distinction of being the oldest inmate in the New York State prison system.

Now another local man is believed to be the oldest inmate in the state system, 90-year-old Niagara Falls resident Otes G. Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was sent back to prison on a conviction of second-degree attempted murder and arson for trying to set a woman on fire with gasoline a decade ago.

Bunz, who died Dec. 17 in Wende Correctional Facility, had been sentenced at age 90 to 17½ years for beating his 89-year-old wife to death in their apartment in March 2010. At the time, he was the second-oldest inmate in the system.

Theodore A. Sypnier, a 101-year-old pedophile from the Town of Tonawanda and Buffalo, also had been the oldest state inmate when he died in December 2010, four months after Bunz was sent to prison. In April 2010, Sypnier had been sent back to prison for violating the terms of his parole – missing classes he was ordered to attend.

When Bunz was sentenced in September 2010 on a guilty plea to first-degree manslaughter, he required the assistance of two court officers to help him from his wheelchair into a defense table seat.

Since then, members of Amberleigh Retirement Community, where John and Virginia Bunz lived, have tried to put the incident behind them.

But the shock of the attack – Bunz had struck his wife about 30 times with a hammer after a quarrel over her health care – has not been entirely forgotten.

Margaret J. Kleinmann, the community’s executive director, said that although she worked at a Lancaster facility at the time, the tragedy affected many in the geriatrics field, prompting an outpouring of compassion and support.

“It was a very unfortunate situation. I’ve worked with the elderly for 32 years in my career and have never had to experience such a horrific situation with any resident or tenant of any retirement community,” Kleinmann said.

“It does not reflect on the proper and efficient operation of any facility. It was completely unexpected and unforeseen by family, staff, friends and especially the residents who were in the social setting with this couple.”

Kleinmann said that all the members of the Amherst facility were offered support and counseling at the time.

In 2005, Rodriguez was sentenced to 25 years in prison and will not be eligible for parole until June 2025, which would make him 101, the same age as Sypnier when he died. He is in the state’s Clinton Correctional Facility.

Rodriguez was found guilty of attempted murder for pouring gasoline on a woman and trying to light her on fire by using a flare gun in 2004. He previously had served prison time for the 1959 murder of his wife and the 1973 murder of his girlfriend.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com