A Delaware County man who killed his neighbor during a dispute on his front lawn last summer was sentenced Friday to 23 months of supervised release after spending nine months in jail.

John Ballas, 50, pleaded guilty in March to involuntary manslaughter in a deal that spared him from the significantly more serious first- and third-degree murder charges he initially faced.

That plea agreement, made during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, angered the family and friends of Joseph Iavarone, 44, whom Ballas shot once in the head on Memorial Day 2019 in their Aston neighborhood.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said he didn’t think prosecutors would be able to successfully argue at trial that Ballas — who contended that he shot Iavarone in self-defense — acted with malice and was guilty of murder.

The two men lived yards from each other in a densely packed subdivision. On the night of the shooting, an intoxicated Iavarone walked to Ballas’ home and started screaming, demanding that Ballas’ son come outside, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Ballas’ arrest.

Ballas’ wife called 911 as Iavarone continued to scream. Not long afterward, Ballas retrieved a .38 caliber handgun he kept locked in his bedroom, loaded it, and went to confront Iavarone, the affidavit said.

During Friday’s proceeding in front of Judge Margaret J. Amoroso, Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Paine said prosecutors decided to reduce the charges because it would have been difficult to disprove the self-defense claim, given evidence that Iavarone had threatened to kick down Ballas’ front door and “assault people inside the house.”

The explanation did little to soothe the relatives of the victim in the courtroom, including his father, Andrew, who said he will never forget or forgive his son’s killer.

“He could’ve gone back in his house and waited for the police,” Andrew Iavarone said. “But no, he had to be the tough guy.”

In a heated exchange during the proceeding, Ballas addressed the Iavarones, saying that while he was sorry for what happened, he felt backed into a corner after trying to defuse things.

“I had no choice” but to shoot him, Ballas said Friday. “Because if I had not, he would’ve killed me and my family.”

Joseph Iavarone, 44, was shot and killed during an argument last Memorial Day.
Courtesy Andrew Iavarone
Joseph Iavarone, 44, was shot and killed during an argument last Memorial Day.

During the exchange, which was recorded by a neighbor, Ballas told Iavarone: “If you come on my yard again, you’re going to be shot,” according to the affidavit. Iavarone and Ballas continued to argue.

After Iavarone told Ballas, “I don’t [expletive] around,” a gunshot was heard, investigators said. A minute later, Ballas said, “I told you not to do it,” and told someone off-camera that he was going to wait for the police outside.

Iavarone died a short time later at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

His stepsister, Kathy Donnelly, said the father of two had been battling personal issues in the months leading up to his death. Her family noticed he had been drinking more and expressed concern to him, she said in an interview.

But he didn’t deserve to be killed, she said.

“Just because the last six months of Joe’s life were kind of messed up, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t have turned it around at some point,” she said. “But now, that opportunity is lost.”