A judge Monday rejected a $50,000 bail request for the man accused of fatally stabbing a Hamburg Toys R Us assistant manager this summer.
Bernard T. Grucza pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder at his arraignment.
State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang said Grucza should continue to be held without bail on the murder charge.
Grucza is charged with fatally stabbing Laurence C. “Larry” Wells II on the morning of June 29 in the store at 3464 McKinley Parkway, where they both worked, before the store opened.
Grucza, 38, a regional loss prevention manager for the toy store chain, was indicted last month by an Erie County grand jury and remains held without bail in the Erie County Holding Center. The indictment came a few days after he was arrested in the slaying.
Grucza, formerly of Elma, allegedly used a key to gain access to the building at McKinley and Milestrip Road with what police believed was the intention to steal either cash or merchandise. He encountered Wells in the store early in the morning before it opened and fatally stabbed him, according to police.
At Grucza’s arraignment, defense attorney Frank Housh requested $50,000 bail, citing what he called the circumstantial nature of the case against his client.
He told reporters outside the downtown Buffalo courtroom that analysts were unable to identify Grucza as the man seen in a store video entering the store the day of the fatal attack. He also said no witnesses identified Grucza as the killer. And no murder weapon has been found.
The only evidence prosecutors have is Grucza’s DNA on a hat found in the store office where the victim’s body was found, he said.
Housh dismissed as irrelevant Grucza’s recent guilty plea to a misdemeanor weapons count in Elma. He said the pistol Grucza admitted possessing was not involved in the Toys R Us case. He said his client faces 90 days in jail when sentenced next Monday in Elma Town Court.
James F. Bargnesi, chief of the Homicide Bureau in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, opposed the bail request.
“To call the evidence circumstantial is a stretch,” Bargnesi said.
He called Grucza a flight risk, since he has no permanent address and is the subject of an order of protection to stay away from his estranged wife, who lives in the Elma home where he formerly resided.
Housh said Grucza has strong family ties to the area, citing his wife and family, and the fact that his father lives in the area.
The judge ordered Grucza to remain held without bail, based on the maximum prison term of 25 years to life he faces if convicted and the risk he may flee if released on bail.