At the sentencing hearing this year for the Tioga teenager who killed her husband in September 2017, Kristin Grandzol heard for the first time that the teen was an escapee from a juvenile facility in Harrisburg at the time of the shooting.
That February day was emotionally overwhelming, she said. Marvin Roberts was 16 when he killed Gerard Grandzol in front of the couple’s 2-year-old daughter outside their Spring Garden home, and the deal in which he pleaded to first-degree murder carried a minimum sentence of 35 years to life in prison. Kristin Grandzol had wanted Roberts to have no chance at parole, but didn’t want to endure the uncertainty of a trial.
“Some things came to light that day about Marvin Roberts. I didn’t know the full story, and I wanted to know the full story,” Grandzol said in an interview this month. “I wanted to know how he was on the streets of Philadelphia. And I couldn’t find any answers.”
Some answers have emerged from a lawsuit she filed against Harrisburg-based Alternative Rehabilitation Communities. Roberts had been sent to ARC’s Woodlawn residential program in February 2017 for a January 2017 robbery in which he rode his bike into a female bicyclist in Philadelphia and stole items from her pocket, according to a law-enforcement source.
He escaped from the ARC facility sometime between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on July 6, 2017 — two months before the Sept. 7 shooting — according to Kristin Grandzol’s lawyer, Kevin O’Brien, citing documents obtained last month in the lawsuit.
“The facility is supposed to be secured by guards,” O’Brien said. “Their explanation so far to us is that he may have walked out the front door, which is really difficult for me to understand. … And their explanation is that the guard may have been in the restroom.”
What’s still unclear was how long Roberts had been ordered to stay at the facility — and the extent of the efforts to find and return him after his escape.
“Why did no one pick him up?” Grandzol asked. “If he didn’t walk out that front door, Gerry would still be alive.”
Juvenile records are not public, so the details of Roberts’ case and confinement are sealed.
ARC’s Woodlawn facility is a residential group home for court-ordered males between 15 and 18 years old, according to the Department of Human Services. As a nonsecure setting, ARC Woodlawn is not permitted to lock its doors or have a perimeter fencing, a DHS spokesperson said by email.
The facility must immediately notify a parent or guardian and tell DHS within 24 hours if a juvenile is absent for four hours or more without staff approval, or 30 minutes if the child could be in immediate jeopardy. Police also must be notified of a missing child.
O’Brien, who filed the lawsuit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said ARC discovered Roberts missing at 6:18 a.m. July 6, 2017, but waited an hour to call police. He said ARC also contacted Roberts’ family and his Philadelphia probation officer that morning.
Harrisburg Police Sgt. Kyle Gautsch said that Roberts was reported missing from the Woodlawn facility that morning and that police contacted a probation officer. Marty O’Rourke, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia courts and the Philadelphia Juvenile Probation Department, said he could not comment.
Two months later, Roberts and his brother, Maurice, then 20, confronted Grandzol, 38, a well-known community activist in Spring Garden, as he got out of his SUV on the 1500 block of Melon Street. He had willingly handed over his wallet and was about to hand over his car keys when he asked to get his daughter Violet out of her rear car seat. Marvin Roberts didn’t wait, shooting Grandzol twice in the face in front of his daughter. The brothers then fled.
O’Brien contends that ARC had an obligation to provide a secure facility to keep Roberts in custody, knowing that he posed a threat. The lawsuit, which alleges that Gerard Grandzol’s death resulted from ARC’s negligence, recklessness, and/or carelessness, seeks more than $50,000.
In a court filing last month, O’Brien wrote: “Simply put, had ARC simply done the job they had undertaken to perform … and ensured that their prisoner did not escape from their facility — Gerard Grandzol would be alive today.”
Daniel Elby, ARC’s CEO and cofounder, did not return messages from The Inquirer.
William Banton Jr. and Adam Fulginiti, Center City lawyers representing ARC, declined to comment on the lawsuit. In August, they added Roberts and his brother, Maurice — who pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in Grandzol’s slaying — as defendants in the lawsuit, contending they were “directly, wholly, and solely liable.”