Man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Jean Tuggy. ‘There is still so much pain’

The man convicted in the 2016 killing of an older Pine Grove Mills woman was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison, a ruling that could spell the legal end of one of Centre County’s most high-profile cases of the past decade.

Christopher G. Kowalski, 36, offered no statement before he was sentenced by Centre County Judge Brian Marshall. He was found guilty but mentally ill of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Jean Tuggy.

The 60-year-old home-schooling mother of three, church librarian and school bus driver was remembered Wednesday as loving, caring and strong.

“There is still so much pain. Even now, as I write this, I am overwhelmed with emotion. Dealing with losing my mom has led to health issues, anxiety, and a lack of sleep among other things, and not just for me but for others who knew her as well. I miss her. Very much,” her daughter Hannah Tuggy wrote in a statement. “I will be dealing with the pain of Mr. Kowalski’s selfish action against my mother for the rest of my life. And no sentence, no retribution or compensation will ever be enough to make up for the loss of her life.”

Kowalski fatally shot Tuggy inside her home along Irion Street. Pennsylvania prosecutors described him during his trial as a cold-blooded killer and a coward who picked Tuggy because she was an “easy target.”

Tuggy twice defeated cancer and had a host of other health issues that required her to use oxygen and a cane. She lived alone.

Kowalski told investigators during an hourslong confession he shot his former co-worker because he was “depressed, down and hopeless.” He also said he killed Tuggy because of a “sick fetish.”

Testimony revealed Kowalski, who relocated to South Carolina after the killing, struggled mightily to make friends and was upset he could not establish a romantic relationship. He did not testify at trial.

Kowalski’s lawyers put forth an insanity defense, one that is rarely used and not often successful. A jury of eight women and four men listened to six days of testimony and deliberated for about three hours before rendering their verdict in November.

They accepted his argument for mental illness, but rejected his defense of insanity. A successful insanity defense would have excused any criminal responsibility for the killing and likely sent him to a state hospital instead of state prison.

Defense lawyers Thomas Egan III and Christopher Mohney tried to convince the jury Kowalski, who has autism, was so mentally ill he didn’t know the killing was wrong. The shooting, they conceded, was done with malice.

He wore gloves, exited through the basement door and took a circuitous route home to avoid being noticed, and disposed of the shell casings. He also turned off Tuggy’s oxygen to “ensure she was dead.”

Egan said he does not plan to file an appeal. Kowalski’s parents hugged each other and wiped away tears after the hearing.

“It’s tragic. It’s tragic that all of the people who are near and dear to Jean Tuggy will never have the ability to interact with her,” Egan told Marshall. “And it’s also tragic from the perspective that the Kowalski family and their close friends and relatives will never, ever have the ability to interact with Mr. Kowalski in the same way as well.”

The investigation — led by Ferguson Township police detective Caleb Clouse and Christopher Weaver, a special agent with the state attorney general’s office — drew universal praise.

Tim Tuggy, her husband that she was separated from at the time of the killing, wrote in a statement that the family is “very relieved that the question of what happened has finally been resolved and that justice is being done.”

Their middle daughter — who wrote of nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder — said her mother’s killing has “deeply impacted me and everyone who loved her.”

“Mr. Kowalski took advantage of her loneliness and the fact that he saw her as an easy mark just tears my heart to shreds because what made her so easy to get to was the fact that she was so trusting and caring,” Hannah Tuggy wrote. “She thought he was a friend, and he betrayed her in the worst possible way.”

Jean Tuggy.
Jean Tuggy.