Lynch says crack cocaine transformed him from petty thief into violent criminal
By LOU MICHEL
News Staff Reporter
Craig M. Lynch was cooking his favorite breakfast, a cheese omelet, when Sister Karen Klimczak walked into the kitchen at Bissonette House.
"What are you cooking?" she asked him.
"Cheese eggs and French toast," Lynch answered.
"Let me try some," Sister Karen said.
And so the two sat down to a friendly breakfast.
One day later, Lynch killed Sister Karen in a crack cocaine-induced craze.
"I loved Sister Karen," Lynch told The Buffalo News during a jailhouse interview last week. "I never did anything violent before this. Stealing cars and petty stuff was my thing."
Lynch acknowledged he committed a terrible crime and may well spend the rest of his life behind bars for taking the life of a 62-year-old woman who devoted her life to trying to end violence.
He said he can't believe he is responsible for taking Sister Karen's life.
"I wake up at night. I couldn't sleep last night. I was thinking about it. I know I'll be living with this the rest of my life," he said.
The 36-year-old man says his relapse into drugs turned him into a killer.
"When you're on crack, it's like you're the only person in the world. Nothing else matters," he said.
According to Buffalo police, Lynch confessed that he broke into the nun's upstairs room to steal her cell phone when he heard her coming. He then hid behind the door, grabbed her from behind and strangled her. She was last seen alive at about 9:45 p.m. on Good Friday, April 14.
He told police he had traded the cell phone and charger later that night for a bag of crack cocaine that turned out to be fake.
Nine days earlier, on April 5, Lynch had been released from Erie County Correctional Facility, where he had completed a prison sentence for stealing a car after violating conditions of his parole in January.
Sister Karen had welcomed him into the Grider Street halfway house - the home of eight other ex-convicts - even though he had a long history of drug abuse. She was willing to let Lynch have a fresh start.
For the first week at Bissonette House, Lynch said, he was getting along fine - happy to be free and have the chance to visit his relatives. But that soon grew old.
There was a delay, he said, in the processing of his Medicaid paperwork to cover the cost of attending outpatient drug treatment, and that left him with free time on his hands.
"I was waiting to start counseling three times a week at Horizon. I went there but they hadn't gotten my Medicaid paperwork to pay for it," Lynch said. "Sister Karen had filled it out, but they hadn't gotten it."
Lynch said he began to think about doing drugs and eventually surrendered to the urge. He obtained money and purchased crack cocaine on Good Friday.
"I got the money and was high," he said. "I returned to the [Bissonette] house in time for curfew."
So what could possess him to kill for a cell phone?
"My body wasn't used to the crack, and I was feeling anger and fear over relapsing," he said in explaining what was racing through his head.
But Lynch is more comfortable talking about peaceful moments with Sister Karen - their breakfast together or when he helped her prepare material for a "peace march" she was planning.
He hopes that when he gets his day in court, the community may see that he is not all bad.
"Who you see now is the real me," Lynch said last week in the visiting room at Erie County Holding Center.
Lynch knows he is asking a lot, hoping that people will see beyond his act of violence. He calls his drug addiction, which started when he first smoked marijuana at age 17, "my disease."
And though he realizes he is hardly the one to be giving advice, he says society must start sooner in dealing with young people who have drug problems.
"When I was first locked up here, they put me on a 24-hour suicide watch. They thought I might kill myself for what happened. I saw young people who were on drugs. People need to know this disease crosses all lines," Lynch said.
He estimates that he has been arrested and incarcerated some 20 times, including two felony convictions - attempted reckless endangerment and car theft that landed him in state custody.
"Every time I'd leave jail, I'd come out the same person I was when I went in. There was no therapeutic help. No one was getting inside my head and asking me what's going on," he said. In fact, Lynch was twice sent to Willard Drug Treatment Center, the state's alternative prison for drug-addicted criminals convicted of nonviolent crimes.
He was first sent to the Finger Lakes center in 2003, after being convicted of stealing a car.
Lynch successfully completed the three-month program, prison officials said. But shortly after being released, he violated his parole and was sent back to Willard for another 90-day stay.
Again, prison officials said, Lynch successfully finished the program. But again, shortly after being released, he violated parole.
That time, Lynch was sent to a traditional prison, the state's Wyoming Correctional Facility. He was released in January, then immediately failed a drug test and was sent to Erie County Correctional Facility, where he again received drug treatment. When in prison, including Willard, Lynch said he was drug-free, and hoped to stay that way.
"I never did drugs in prison, because I wanted to change," Lynch said. But once back on the streets, the lure of drugs, he said, gradually took hold.
"The urge kept getting stronger in my mind," he said.