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Virginia man found guilty in 2017 Eldred Township murder

Despite four attempts to rule a Virginia-native mentally incompetent for trial, he was found guilty on all counts Wednesday for the 2017 murder of an elderly Eldred Township man at his home, along with other related charges.

Graham Nicholas Norby-Vardac, 25, was found guilty of killing Donald Kleese Jr., 82, on April 6, 2017, in his home along Quaker Hill Road during a cross-country bicycle trip gone awry.

He will serve a mandatory life sentence in state prison.

The number of lies Norby-Vardac told to law enforcement, as well as the number of fatal wounds found on Kleese by a forensic pathologist confirmed to Judge Nancy L. Butts, presiding, that he had “the fully-formed intent to kill,” and understood the meaning, she said.

Wednesday was the third day of trial after a prolonged continuance since June stemming from questions regarding Norby-Vardac’s mental illness. He was eventually ruled competent to stand trial through Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County. He was, however, diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder.

Butts chose not to convict Norby-Vardac of guilty with mental illness, and rather said it will be up to the state Department of Corrections what resources they give to him.

At about 7 a.m. the day of the murder, it was out of desperation and being

“mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted” that Norby-Vardac said he smashed through a window of Kleese’s home, which he thought was abandoned considering the residence appeared dilapidated.

He was looking for food and money, he said.

Kleese, who was awoken by the smashed window, confronted Norby-Vardac and threatened to call police.

“He would have thought at that moment, ‘How do I remove the witness?’ “ said Butts.

An individual would have run once threatened in this manner, but it was Norby-Vardac’s intent to kill Kleese, she said.

Norby-Vardac struck Kleese with a shovel multiple times before strangling the man.

“To do those things you have to have intent,” said Butts.

Samuel Land, a forensic pathologist from Allentown, testified to his autopsy of Kleese on April 7, 2017.

“All of these injuries were significant,” he said. The blunt-force trauma to the aged-man’s head caused brain hemorrhaging and significant bleeding.

Bruises on and broken bones in Kleese’s neck were consistent with strangulation. Kleese’s hyroid, a small bone under the jaw and at the top of the neck, was broken.

“It’s not something that happens in daily life,” said Kleese.

The victim’s arms were also cut and bruised, which were consistent with defensive wounds that “occur when a person is trying to ward off or block a blow,” he said.

Previous days have included testimony from Eldred Township residents who saw Norby-Vardac traveling through on bike and eventually traveling along Kleese’s driveway after failing to wave down cars. Investigators, too, testified to their role and Norby-Vardac’s recorded interview with state police in which he admitted to the murder was played for the courtroom.

Eventually found by Canadian border patrol officers in Kleese’s Subaru Outback, Norby-Vardac told a variety of lies from the ownership of the vehicle to his encounter with Kleese as he was transferred from Buffalo, New York, police to Lycoming County law enforcement.

A victim impact statement written by Linda Night, Kleese’s eldest daughter, was read by Butts at the sentencing.

“You are a waste of space, may God have mercy on your soul,” she said.

Kleese was a veteran and an avid musician who played piano at his church.

“If you had just asked, (Kleese) would have given you food and shelter,” she said. “But, no, you had to break into his house and kill him.”

Knight, in her letter, asked for Norby-Vardac to be sentenced to life for his crimes.

“We just want to make sure you never have the opportunity to devastate another family again,” she said.

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