LISBON - Just a little more than a year after he assaulted and robbed an elderly World War II veteran, Joseph Eltringham pleaded guilty to three charges in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Thursday.
Eltringham, 45, Rochester Road, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, felonious assault and intimidation. He faces up to 21 years in prison. However, Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Weikart said he will ask for the maximum sentences of 10 years, eight years and three years to run concurrently as part of the plea agreement.
If Judge Scott Washam agrees with Weikart's recommendation, Eltringham would face a decade in prison.
Eltringham's defense attorney, Richard Hura, immediately asked Washam to consider releasing Eltringham for two days of electronically monitored house arrest at a hotel at least 15 miles from the home of the victim, Robert Kastelic. Hura said Eltringham's mother, who was in the courtroom Thursday, is in poor health and would like a chance to embrace her son one more time.
"He has been the most wonderful son anyone could have," said Shirley Eltringham, 78, when given the opportunity to speak in court. She added she did not believe he would have done this, and he was the type of boy who would not even shoot a deer or rabbit.
"I'm don't know how much longer I'm going to be here ... I will probably never see him again," she said.
Joseph Eltringham also pleaded with Washam, apologizing to everyone for what he did and stating he does not remember that night, only knowing he must have done what he is accused of doing.
"Looking back, as a soldier, I should have been held to a higher standard," he said. "I just want to see my mom and my family before I go."
Hura contended Eltringham is genuinely sorry and not a threat to Kastelic. He referred to Eltringham by his military rank of sergeant and reminded everyone in the courtroom Eltringham has served three tours of duty and had been honorably discharged. Now on medication and without the use of alcohol or opiates, Hura said Eltringham is remorseful.
Weikart renewed his opposition to any release for Eltringham. Weikart said release would be unprecedented for anyone facing a felony one and he believes Eltringham could be a flight risk.
"Jails and prisons are full of people who want to be out to see their family," Weikart said, adding he submitted a letter in June from a family spokesman from Kastelic's family. "Mr. Kastelic's family lives out of state and they have concerns about the possible release of the man who almost killed their 87-year-old father."
The defense attorney, Hura, read into the record a letter written by Eltringham's minister, the Rev. Victor Cinsom Jr. of Minerva, who said he has known Eltringham and his family for the eight years he has served their church. Both Cinsom and his assistant, the Rev. David Arend, have reportedly visited Eltringham in jail. Cinsom wrote that he prays for a time when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is recognized as a defense.
Throughout the hearings, Hura has said Eltringham was diagnosed with PTSD from his time serving in the military. Hura said Eltringham was being treated for PTSD by a Dr. Bruener when he returned from his last tour of duty.
However, in Ohio, a diminished capacity such as PTSD is not a viable defense. It does not prove Eltringham did not know the wrongfulness of his actions.
After Thursday's hearing Hura said the three expert witnesses who have evaluated Eltringham have said or at least acknowledged Eltringham has PTSD. Both Hura and Weikart suggested they may each bring one of the experts to the sentencing hearing, which is set for Nov. 1.
Additionally, Hura said he plans to bring military experts to show the PTSD was from an injury Eltringham suffered in the line of duty. In the end, Hura said all his client has ever really wanted is to receive treatment for his issues.
"We do genuinely feel bad from Mr. Kastelic," Hura said after the hearing, referring to himself and Eltringham. "He is a noble man and a veteran as well. Thankfully he is OK."
Eltringham, 45, spent 23 years in the National Guard and had recently returned from active duty shortly before he was accused of grabbing the then 86-year-old Kastelic by the neck, threatening to kill him and severely beating him over a 30-minute time frame. Then he allegedly stole $400 from Kastelic's wallet, asked if he could keep a ladder he had previously borrowed from Kastelic and went after title paperwork for Kastelic's pickup and his home. Finally, he allegedly threatened to kill Kastelic if he told anyone what happened.
Kastelic, who served as a Navy navigator during World War II, had escaped the attack by crawling from a bedroom window, across the road and into a nearby field, where he was later found by Chief Deputy Allan Haueter. Kastelic was hospitalized a week with his injuries.