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Tonawanda man sentenced for fatally shooting man outside of his home, attempting to kill responding police officers


Mon, Dec 11th 2023 01:55 pm

Submitted by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced 31-year-old Matthew R. Gerwitz of the City of Tonawanda was sentenced this morning before Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio to 65 years to life in prison.

On Monday, May 26, 2020, at approximately 1:10 a.m., the defendant intentionally shot the victim on the corner of Morgan Street and Clinton Street in the City of Tonawanda with an illegal handgun. The victim, who was playing a cell phone game on the sidewalk at the time of the incident, was hit in the torso by gunfire. The victim, 32-year-old Joseph Marasco, was taken by ambulance to ECMC where he later died. The victim was not known to the defendant.

Gerwitz drove away after the shooting. About two hours later, at approximately 3:37 a.m., the defendant returned to the area and retreated back inside of his Morgan Street apartment as City of Tonawanda Police investigated the crime scene nearby. Once inside of the residence, defendant intentionally fired multiple shots from an illegal rifle at four police officers who were outside of the apartment. One of the police officers, a detective who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was hit multiple times by gunfire. He was transported to ECMC where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The other three officers were not injured.

The defendant then attempted to flee in a vehicle and exchanged gunfire with two police officers during their pursuit. Gerwitz was apprehended after a brief high-speed chase that ended a short distance away when police rammed the defendant’s car with their patrol vehicles on Morgan Street near Kohler Street. A police lieutenant suffered a sprained wrist and a back injury as a result of the collision. Another officer, who was in a separate patrol vehicle, was not unharmed.

During the investigation, three additional illegal handguns were found inside of the defendant’s residence.

On Sept. 26, 2023, a jury found Gerwitz guilty of one count of murder in the second degree, six counts of attempted murder in the first degree (class “A-I” felonies), two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (class “C” violent felonies) and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree (class “D” felonies). Jurors rendered their decision after approximately five hours of deliberation following an eight-day trial, convicting the defendant of all 12 counts in the indictment against him.

Flynn said, “This is truly a senseless crime that tragically ended the life of Joseph Marasco. It is miraculous that no responding officers were killed or seriously injured, especially the detective who was hit in the bulletproof vest, due to this defendant’s actions following the homicide. I hope that the Marasco family and the City of Tonawanda Police Department feel that justice has been served by this defendant receiving a significant prison sentence.”

Capt. Kevin Ulmer of the City of Tonawanda Police Department said, “The six responding police officers will never forget the night that Joseph Marasco’s life was selfishly taken. It has been a long-awaited, emotional 3½ years, but justice has prevailed. We pray that this verdict, and this sentencing, will provide a sense of closure for Joseph’s friends and family, our officers and their families.”

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said, “We were called to assist with the investigation of this tragedy, where a member of the public was murdered and on-duty City of Tonawanda Police Det. David Ljiljanich was shot multiple times. These are always very difficult investigations. I want to recognize the tremendous collaboration between the Sheriff’s Office, City of Tonawanda Police and the district attorney’s office. The invaluable leadership of Chief Robert Klontz and District Attorney Flynn’s talented team of prosecutors should be commended for bringing this unfortunate case to its rightful conclusion.”

Flynn commends the City of Tonawanda Police Department Police, Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Tonawanda Fire Department, Twin City Ambulance and all of the neighboring police agencies who responded to assist in this investigation.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney John P. Gerken Jr. of the homicide bureau and Assistant District Attorney Nicholas C. Bussi of the felony trials bureau.

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