WILKES-BARRE — A woman admitted in Luzerne County Court she participated in the killing of her grandfather in April 2019, making it the third guilty plea in the case.
During a tearful appearance in court, Gabriella Elizabeth Long, 18, pleaded guilty to third degree murder and criminal conspiracy to commit homicide in the fatal stabbing death of 71-year-old Joseph Monka.
Judge William H. Amesbury III accepted the plea agreement and immediately sentenced Long to serve 17.5 to 40 years on each count, with the two sentences to run consecutively, adding to a total of 35 to 80 years in prison. At the absolute earliest, Long will be in her early 50s before she is eligible for release, but could be in her late 90s.
Monka’s body was found inside his Arch Street, Edwardsville, residence by borough police conducting a welfare check on April 17, 2019.
Investigators believed Monka was killed two days earlier on April 15, 2019.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross previously testified Monka was stabbed 43 times and was severely beaten with a golf club.
Long, formerly of New York, was living with her grandfather at the time of his slaying. She was 16 at the time.
Investigators in court records and testimony given at previous court proceedings say Devin Malik Cunningham, 21, and Christopher Brian Cortez, 20, fatally stabbed Monka while Long and Mercedes Hall were in a bedroom. Hall and Cortez have both previously pleaded guilty.
Monday’s hearing was initially scheduled to be a decertification hearing, with Long’s attorneys, John Pike and Mary Deady, set to argue for Long’s case to be moved into the juvenile court system, but an agreement was reached between the defense team and prosecutors to have Long enter a guilty plea instead.
After Monka was killed, investigators alleged the four stole nearly $30,000 from a safe in the home and went on a shopping spree at the Wyoming Valley Mall buying new clothes and sneakers and discarding their old attire in garbage cans inside the mall.
Investigators retrieved the discarded sneakers from the mall’s garbage compactor at a landfill.
Long, Hall and Cortez were arrested when they were seen leaving a motel in Plains Township on April 17, 2019, where Monka’s vehicle was found.
Cunningham was arrested at his mother’s residence in Fairfax, Va., on April 25, 2019.
Long was initially charged with a number of counts of theft, but these charges were dropped in exchange for her guilty plea.
Both prosecutors and the defense team pushed for immediate sentencing in Long’s case, waiving their rights to a pre-sentencing investigation. Before Long was sentenced, both her mother and her grandmother spoke emotionally about the tragedy that led to Monday’s plea.
Jessica Cartman, Long’s mother, acknowledged that her daughter had a history of mental health issues, which she implied ultimately culminated in the events that led to Monka’s death.
“I tried so hard to get her help. I tried very hard,” she said through tears. “All I wanted was my daughter to have a chance at life.
“Gabby, I love you, and I’m not gonna abandon you. Because Grampy would haunt me for the rest of my life and that’s what he would want,” she went on.
Frances Monka, the late Monka’s widow and grandmother of Long, echoed Long’s mother’s sentiments.
“Underneath everything, Gabby is a very sweet person, always with a smile,” Monka said. “I loved her, I always loved her. I tried my best and that’s all I can say.”
Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino said before the sentencing that the love she was surrounded by is part of what makes Monka’s death so baffling.
“As much as Jessica and Fran love Gabby, everyone who knew Joseph Monka said he adored his granddaughter,” Ferentino said. “That’s what makes this crime so confounding.”
In addition to the lengthy prison time, Long was also ordered to pay, in part, nearly $100,000 in restitution, but these fees will be split equally among herself and her co-defendants.
After the sentencing, Ferentino told members of the media that this is just the latest stage in getting justice for Monka.
“These cases have been moving toward a resolution; we have been working really hard reviewing the case, putting our case together,” he said. “We had a compelling case and oftentimes when you have a compelling case… a resolution is reached.”
Ferentino said that this case, particularly Long’s involvement, made for an incredibly emotional case, due to the victim and one of the perpetrators coming from the same family.
Hall pleaded guilty to third degree murder in December but has not been sentenced. She agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, according to her plea agreement.
Cortez pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy to commit third degree murder in June. He was sentenced to 35 to 80 years in state prison.
Cunningham, now the only defendant in the case who has not entered a guilty plea, is facing multiple charges including criminal homicide, criminal conspiracy, theft and robbery in county court. Ferentino said on Monday that prosecutors are willing and ready to bring Cunningham for trial.