A Hazleton man convicted by a Luzerne County jury of first-degree murder is staying in prison.
A three-member panel of the state Superior Court on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction for Eleazar Yisrael, 32, in the killing of Samuel John Vacante, 52, in Butler Township on Aug. 31, 2015.
State police at Hazleton and county detectives said Vacante suffered a gunshot wound to his back inside his garage on Coventry Road. His body was found wrapped in a tent in a wooded area of Penn Forrest Township, Carbon County, on Sept. 6, 2015.
Investigators suspected the motive for the killing was Yisrael’s romantic relationship with Vacante’s estranged wife.
After a week-long trial in December 2016, a jury deliberated less than four hours before returning a verdict convicting Yisrael on counts of first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, tampering with evidence and abuse of corpse.
Judge Michael T. Vough sentenced Yisrael to a life term for the first-degree murder conviction and 14-and-a-half to 29 years on the other counts.
Yisrael appealed the jury’s verdict, claiming the evidence presented by assistant district attorneys Daniel Zola, Rachael Pugh and Justin Richards during the trial did not support the conviction.
Yisrael claimed investigators failed to find his DNA at Vacante’s house or any other evidence indicating he was at the murder scene.
Although the Superior Court said Yisrael’s DNA was not introduced at trial, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the convictions.
Investigators found various items taken from Vacante’s house, including watches, mail, tools, binoculars and a firearm, inside Yisrael’s house on Sept. 3, 2015. And a box of blue latex gloves in Yisrael’s house was the same type found in Vacante’s garage.
The Superior Court noted Vacante’s vehicle, a Kia Cadenza, was found two blocks from Yisrael’s residence where a key fob to the vehicle was found, and Yisrael’s fingerprints were discovered throughout the vehicle’s interior.
“…the Commonwealth’s circumstantial evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude (Yisrael) murdered Vacante, and disposed of his body, (Yisrael’s) claim that the evidence was insufficient to tie him to Vacante’s body fails,” the Superior Court ruled.
Yisrael is currently at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill.