SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A double murderer was back in court Wednesday to face yet another change in his sentencing.
Joseph Aulisio killed two children in Old Forge when he was 15 years old in 1981. Nearly a year later, he was found guilty of murder by a jury and was sentenced to death row before being re-sentenced to life without parole a few years later.
This re-sentencing comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 and 2016 that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders. Nearly 40 years later, Aulisio’s fate is back in a judge’s hand.
A Lackawanna County judge handed down a third sentence on now-53-year-old Joseph Aulisio for a double murder back in 1981 when he was just 15 years old. After a five-and-a-half-hour long hearing, Judge Vito Geroulo sentenced Aulisio to a minimum of 30 years to life behind bars for each murder victim with a chance of parole at Year 60.
“We’re pleased with Judge Geroulo’s decision. It pretty much guarantees that inmate Aulisio will die in prison,” Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell said.
In July 1981, Aulisio fatally shot Cheryl and Christopher Ziemba in a house Aulisio’s father was helping build. He accidentally shot and killed Christopher before intentionally killing the boy’s sister.
Aulisio then cleaned the murder scene and hid the bodies in a nearby strip mine. He then helped in a two-day search carried out by the community before the bodies were found and he was arrested.
“It was just totally a destructive period of time and people have not forgotten it,” former case prosecutor Ernest Preate said.
Preate was the Lackawanna County District Attorney prosecuting the case. He sat with the Ziemba family Wednesday during the hearing to learn Aulisio’s fate for the third time.
“It vindicated the jury’s verdict. It vindicated the evidence that we put together back nearly 40 years ago,” Preate said.
The defense brought four witnesses to the stand to testify, including Aulisio, who told his side of the story on what occurred on July 26, 1981.
“38 years later, he comes in with a different version. He couldn’t even get straight who he shot first and to say it just happened or they died, how disingenuous could that be,” Powell said.
The commonwealth brought 13 witnesses to the stand Wednesday, including correction officers, former state troopers who investigated the case, a firefighter who helped in the search, and prison psychologists. They testified Aulisio was never genuine and never took ownership of what he had done.
Aulisio will be eligible for parole in 22 years after serving 60 years behind bars. He will be 75 years old.