Francis A. Biunno, 87, formerly of Wallingford, a retired Common Pleas Court judge in Philadelphia, died of complications from dementia Friday, Nov. 30, at Riddle Village, a retirement community in Media.
Before retiring in 1994, Judge Biunno presided over numerous criminal cases in his 20 years on the bench.
Among the more heinous cases were those of a Fishtown man found guilty of setting fire to an abandoned rowhouse in which a firefighter died; a man who shot a high school student for her gold earrings; and the rape and stabbing of an 85-year-old woman. "This was a brutal and barbaric attack," Judge Biunno said in 1992 when he sentenced Mervin Fortune to 22 to 55 years in prison.
Judge Biunno believed in decorum in his courtroom. In 1992, he sentenced Tyrone Holloway to life in prison without parole for killing Philadelphia Police Officer Miriam Phelps. The judge threatened to clear the courtroom when her relatives shouted with glee. "This is nothing to cheer about or smile about," he said.
When jurors hearing a drug-related murder case told the judge that they feared for their safety, he ordered extra security and asked that a metal detector be set up.
"Fran was well-respected. He got along with everyone, defense attorneys and district attorneys," said his wife, Jule Kleinz Biunno.
Besides his weekday duties, Judge Biunno spent many weekends performing weddings. He could never turn anyone down, his wife said.
Judge Biunno was born to Italian immigrants and grew up in Southwest Philadelphia. He graduated from West Catholic High School in 1943.
During World War II, he was enrolled in the V-12 program to train Navy officers at the University of Pennsylvania. He hoped to be a pilot, but the war ended before he could be deployed, his wife said. He remained in the Navy Reserve for more than 20 years, retiring as a commander in the late 1960s.
Judge Biunno earned a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He had a solo practice in Center City and was later an assistant district attorney before his election to Common Pleas Court in 1973. He was re-elected in 1983.
He and Jule Kleinz were married in 1965. They met at Good Shepherd Church in Southwest Philadelphia. "He sent me a Christmas card and I didn't know who he was. My brother said he was the guy who sat behind me at church. We met when I thanked him for the card after Mass," his wife said.
Judge Biunno and his wife raised a family in Southwest Philadelphia before moving to Wallingford in the late 1990s. He was an often unlucky fisherman at the Jersey Shore, his daughter, Regina, said, but he prided himself on the tomatoes and peppers he grew in his garden. He told engaging stories and was an avid reader with an encyclopedic knowledge, his daughter said. In later years he doted on his grandchildren.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Judge Biunno is survived by a son, Francis, and three grandchildren.
A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at St. John Chrysostom Church, 615 S. Providence Rd., Wallingford. Friends may call from 9:30 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon.