COUDERSPORT — A former elementary school teacher was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday in Potter County Court after pleading guilty to first-degree murder charges last week.
Gregory Lynn Eldred, 53, of Coudersport, heard the testimony from the friends and family of his ex-wife, Darlene Sitler, whom he fatally shot during Sunday morning worship services at the First United Presbyterian Church. Judge Stephen Minor then formally announced the terms of his plea arrangement.
Sitler was described as a well-loved and highly respected music teacher at the Northern Potter Children’s School during statements made by five people affected by the shooting.
The Rev. Evan Lloyd, who was present at the time of the shooting and attempted to assist Sitler at the scene, spoke first, summing up the anger and heartache that has deeply affected members of her congregation, of which approximately 25 were enjoying Sitler’s organ playing when Eldred entered the sanctuary.
Rev. Lloyd spoke of Sitler’s kindness, telling Eldred, “Darlene never said an unkind word about you,” even after the divorce.
Her brother, Arden Sitler, said, “There was a happiness about everything she did, and she didn’t deserve to die.” Being much older than her, Arden Sitler said, “I never really knew her until the day she died when I encountered the outpouring of admiration and sympathy expressed by you folks in Coudersport and the area.”
Two school employees, Superintendent Alanna Huck of the Coudersport Area School District, where Eldred was an elementary music teacher, and elementary guidance counselor Kimberly Eckenrode from the Northern Potter School District touched on the difficulties in explaining this tragedy to the children, many of whom were shocked and heartbroken by the news.
“You took the safety associated with teachers away from the youth at the schools,” Ms. Huck said. “This was one of the most incomprehensible events that could’ve occurred.”
Ms. Eckenrode told Eldred: “You robbed children in two school districts of their innocence ... and ripped a hole in thousands of hearts. Darlene never wished any harm to you; she never wished any ill will on you ... She was a much better person than any of us could hope to be.”
Eldred spoke softly when he addressed the assembled crowd of more than 60 people who came to see his sentencing, sobbing at times between sentences.
“I’m truly sorry for all the sadness and suffering resulting from my actions,” said Eldred, who went on to say he was not acting “rationally” due to a situation he was dealing with at the time.
“My behavior on Dec. 2 was completely out of character for me ... as a result, I ended up ending the life of the one person who meant more to me than anyone else,” said Eldred. “I completely regret what I’ve done.”
When Eldred had finished speaking, Judge Minor addressed the court, stating, “She’ll be remembered for her kindness and good acts … and you’ll be remembered for your action as well.”
Judge Minor told Eldred that when he passed his sentence he would “be leaving Potter County, never to return.”
Still, however, no motive for the killing has been shared with the public. Only one reference to a possible reasoning in Eldred’s mind for shooting Mrs. Sitler was even touched on by Rev. Lloyd during her statement, when she said, “She knew you would blame her for something she did not do ... She knew that you would attempt to kill her” because of information he believed she had shared.
Eldred will spend the rest of his life behind bars in a Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections cell. He is to have no contact with any of the victims, except to write an apology letter. Eldred was also ordered to pay a $30,000 fine and pay the costs of prosecution and treatment for victims and witnesses, which so far is an additional cost of nearly $6,000.
Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson, who negotiated the plea arrangement with defense attorney William Hebe, said all but two of the other individuals involved in the case agreed to a plea arrangement that kept Eldred in prison for life but ruled out the death penalty.
Mr. Watson said he felt it necessary “to complement this community on their maturity, religious background and their compassion for life” concerning their wish to keep Eldred off death row.