Blind anger appears to have driven Donald Delancy Jr. to beat his father-in-law to death with a 4-pound sledgehammer.

Delancy took responsibility for Francis Mercier’s murder on Friday, nine months after Delancy initially told police he accidentally hit Mercier in the head while swinging at a bat that was flying around in a room of his home. With his Friday guilty plea to third-degree murder in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, Delancy faces a minimum of 20 years in state prison when he is sentenced May 5 at 1:30 p.m.

Delancy was charged with murdering Mercier by hitting him with a sledgehammer in Mercier’s East Mead Township home where Delancy and his wife lived as well.

He struck Mercier in the head with a 4-pound sledge. An autopsy revealed Mercier suffered at least four skull fractures.

Delancy initially told police that he accidentally hit Mercier as he swung the sledgehammer at a bat. Then he changed his story and told police that he got into an altercation with Mercier after they began to argue when Mercier arrived home that night.

“I don’t remember hitting him with the sledgehammer, no sir,” Delancy answered when Judge Anthony Vardaro asked him about it. “I remember having an altercation and punching him. I can’t remember hitting him at all.” He did recall seeing Mercier lying on the floor of the garage where the attack occurred, and said there was “no doubt, no sir” that he was the one who had struck Mercier.

“That’s correct sir,” he said when asked if he wanted to enter the guilty plea to the third-degree murder charge.

A third-degree charge differs from first-degree murder in that under first-degree murder there has to be specific intent to kill. Vardaro said Delancy may have a “diminished capacity” to form intent.

“I plead guilty,” Delancy said, starting to sob quietly.

“I think this is the best thing,” said Mercier’s sister, Ann Gist, of the plea-bargain arrangement. At the same time, she feels it’s important that the judge read the autopsy report and look at pictures taken at the scene before determining Del-ancy’s final sentence.

Mercier’s oldest sister, Lucille Hamilton, agreed. “I think he (Delancy) just got real angry. That’s what anger does to you. I think this is probably the better thing to do,” she said of the plea. “I feel so sorry for his mother and dad,” she added, referring to Delancy’s parents.

District Attorney Francis Schultz said he agreed with the plea because it may have been difficult to prove intent to kill because of a diminished capacity. From all reports, it appeared it was a “rage thing” and “Delancy lost control. That doesn’t minimize it,” he said of Mercier’s death and the murder.

“If I took the case to trial, there’s the off-chance I could lose all counts (of murder) and the jury could come back with voluntary or involuntary man-slaughter. I wanted to avoid that,” he said.

Schultz said he talked with Mercier’s family, his sisters, son and daughter and they agreed with the decision.

Jane Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

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