Niles teen gets life in prison
By JORDAN COHEN
Jacob LaRosa, 19, convicted earlier this year of the beating death of 94-year-old Marie Belcastro of Niles in 2015, will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
LaRosa, handcuffed and wearing orange prison clothing, showed no visible reaction Friday in a packed courtroom as Judge W. Wyatt McKay of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court imposed the sentence for aggravated murder along with consecutive sentences of 11 years for aggravated robbery, 11 years for aggravated burglary and eight years for attempted rape.
LaRosa had pleaded no contest to the charges prior to the start of his trial last February and was found guilty on all counts by Judge
LaRosa was 15 when he attacked Belcastro, his neighbor, in her Cherry Street home in March 2015. Testimony in the sentencing hearing last April revealed that he broke into the woman’s home to get money to buy alcohol and later boasted about the crime while incarcerated at the juvenile justice center.
Because he was 15, LaRosa was not eligible for capital punishment. The minimum age under Ohio law is 18.
“Had he been over 18 ... he would have gotten the death penalty,” said Chris Becker, first assistant prosecutor, after the sentencing. He described the nature of the crime as among the worst he has seen in his 28 years as a prosecuting attorney.
Before imposing the sentence, Judge McKay reviewed five “mitigating factors” under Ohio law that might have justified a less severe sentence. The judge found none of them applied.
“The brutality of the crime and substance abuse worked against him as a mitigating factor,” the judge said, noting that the victim was “a frail, 94-year-old woman known to be kind to him ... [he] brutally beat her with a [metal] flashlight.”
The judge reviewed testimony describing the damage to her face and head as “so severe,” the coroner was unable to tell how many times LaRosa struck her.
Belcastro’s face was “crushed with multiple lacerations” to the point that her brain could be seen through her skull.
“He bragged about seeing her brains,” the judge continued, noting that LaRosa has shown “no true remorse, [which] weighs heavily for a more severe punishment.”
During the judge’s comments, several members of the victim’s family could be seen weeping. They, along with friends and supporters, occupied half of the spectator seats, while others believed to be associated with the LaRosa family sat silently in the other half. Neither group commented after the sentencing.
The judge rejected rehabilitation as another potential mitigating factor, citing “a history of juvenile court interventions” with “multiple violations.”
“He committed this heinous crime just hours after his release from juvenile detention,” Judge McKay said.
Atty. David Rouzzo, representing LaRosa, told the judge he plans to file a notice of appeal. He indicated to The Vindicator afterward that the extent of the sentence “might be among the reasons” but referred any further questions to the Ohio Public Defender’s office.
Becker, however, predicted the sentence “will stand up against any appeal” and praised Judge McKay’s decision.
“It was appropriate and the only sentence he could make,” the assistant prosecutor said. “Thanks to Judge McKay – he got it right.”