Jacob LaRosa sentenced to life in prison

No parole for brutal murder of elderly neighbor

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Jacob LaRosa, 19, center, looks back at his attorney, David Rouzzo, right, while being led away in handcuffs by Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office deputies following his sentencing Friday by Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay.

WARREN — Jacob LaRosa was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for the brutal 2015 murder of his 94-year-old Niles neighbor who previously had shown him nothing but kindness, according to the victim’s family.

LaRosa, 19, sat emotionless as Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay read the sentence that likely will place him in prison for the rest of his life for the beating death and attempted rape of Marie Belcastro inside her Cherry Avenue home. According to testimony during the trial, LaRosa struck Belcastro in the head several times with a mag flashlight and dragged her body to the bedroom, where he tried to rape her.

In addition to the life sentence for the murder, LaRosa also was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the aggravated burglary of Belcastro’s 509 Cherry Ave. home, 11 years for aggravated robbery for stealing cash and alcohol from the home and eight years for attempting to rape the still alive, but badly beaten, woman.

LaRosa pleaded no contest and was then found guilty to each of the charges during a February hearing.

As McKay read the sentences, nearly 40 people sat quietly, some holding one another’s hands, in the rear of the second-floor courtroom attempting not to display any emotions.

In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, McKay said LaRosa will be labeled a Tier III sexual offender, which means, if ever released from prison, he will have to report to the county sheriff’s office of any community where he lives, works or goes to school within three days of his arrival.

In explaining his sentence, McKay outlined the court’s effort to balance LaRosa’s age and possible mental deficits to the severity of the crime committed. He said there was evidence the teen would likely commit future crimes if ever released from prison.

LaRosa, who was 15 at the time of the crime, had numerous dealings with the Trumbull County Juvenile Court and was in various drug and alcohol programs before being arrested for Belcastro’s murder.

In reviewing the teen’s history, McKay noted he was placed in special education classes as early as the first grade because he had difficulty retaining information. He was diagnosed with low-average to below-average intelligence, attention deficit disorder and was identified as bipolar with cannabis dependence.

LaRosa did not have a good relationship with his birth father and had a strained relationship with his stepfather, whom he lived with since he was 4 years old, according to his history.

His parents locked the doors within their house at night to keep LaRosa from stealing from family members. His stepfather began sleeping with a gun under his pillow because he was concerned about the teen’s violent tendencies.

These factors could have been mitigating factors in his sentencing. However, McKay said the brutality of the crime and LaRosa’s continued substance abuse weighed against these factors.

In describing the murder scene, McKay said Belcastro was beaten so severely “…that her brain was visible through holes in her skull, and shards of her hearing aid were strewn throughout the area through which she was assaulted and dragged,” McKay said.

McKay emphasized that LaRosa was given consecutive, not concurrent, sentences, because the court found that each of the crimes were separate and distinct and should not be merged.

The burglary and the initial beating with the flashlight took place in the home’s living room, then the robbery took place in the dining room and basement, and the attempted rape in the bedroom.

McKay described LaRosa showing no real remorse for the crimes, even bragging to fellow prisoners in the juvenile justice center that he wanted to “hide her body and save her for later.”

Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker said although it took three years to conclude the case, he believes the time it took and the scrutiny that McKay took in the work leading to the sentencing will prevent any successful appeal of the sentencing.

Saying he has worked on more than 150 different murder cases in his career as an assistant county prosecutor, Becker said the scene of this murder was one of the worst three he has seen.

Becker said the sentence LaRosa received was the maximum possible because he was a juvenile at the time he committed the crime.

“There’s no question that if he had been over 18 he would have gotten from any jury the death penalty,” Becker said. “We couldn’t give him the death penalty, but Judge McKay thoughtfully, carefully and professionally examined all of the factors and gave the only sentence that he could make.”

Defense attorneys said they may appeal the sentence.

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