49,000,000,000,000,000 to 1

Those are the odds that someone other than Mario Girau of Yonkers stabbed and bludgeoned his wife to death last year, according to a DNA test.

I learned this after talking with Girau’s defense lawyer, David Rich, a few minutes after the 71-year-old retiree pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. That number, by the way, is pronounced 49 quadrillion, not quintillion as I previously said. No wonder Girau took a plea deal. He’ll serve 15 years to life, but at his age, with his deteriorating health, 15 years will be a life sentence.

In the courtroom, the white-haired Girau sat at the defense table because he was too weak to stand. But he was extremely polite as he admitted to being a murderer, as evidenced by his responses to Westchester County Judge Robert DiBella and Assistant District Attorney Lana Hochheiser:

“Is this what you want to do today?” the judge asked.
“Yes, sir!” Girau answered.
“Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Girau said.

Sitting two rows in front of me was Mario Girau Jr., one of the killer’s eleven — 11! — children. He was allowed to go back in the holding cell area and talk with his father before the plea. As the elder Girau was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, he turned to his son and said, “Take care. I’ll talk to you later.”

When I approached the younger Girau in the hallway, I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t feel much like talking. We’ll see if anyone speaks at the elder Girau’s Jan. 16 sentencing.

Welcome to Completely Legal

We hope that this blog gives you an insiders look behind the courthouse doors of the Lower Hudson Valley.

When people ask me what it’s like covering murder trials and other legal matters for a living, my answer is always the same — real courtrooms do not work like the ones on television. No where is this more evident than on “Law & Order” which I think is now the longest-running courtroom drama on TV. When I watched the premiere last week, I laughed thinking how much easier my job would be if trials were this quick and as easy. I envy L&O’s fictional newspaper reporters.

But L&O has influenced the collective cultural opinion of the court system so much, judges here have to remind people coming for jury duty that L&O and other TV trials won’t be like the trial they’re about to sit through.

To illustrate that point, here are some differences between “Law & Order” and your typical high-profile homicide trial in the Lower Hudson Valley:

Time from arrest to trial
L&O: 30 minutes
LHV: 1-2 years

Length of trial
L&O: 13-15 minutes
LHV: 3-5 weeks

Opening statements
L&O: Occasionally, for a few seconds
LHV: Always, for many, many minutes

Number of prosecution witnesses
L&O: 3-4
LHV: 30-40

Cross-examination
L&O: 30 seconds
LHV: 30 minutes to 2 days

Leading witnesses
L&O: Frequently, without protest from opposing counsel
LHV: Rarely, and always with strong objections

Closing arguments
L&O: 1 minute
LHV: 1-2 hours

Verdicts
L&O: Musical accompaniment
LHV: Silence, except for crying relatives

And finally, despite our logo, judges around here don’t use gavels. I’ve yet to see a single one sitting on a judicial bench in the Westchester County Courthouse. Tim says that out of the nearly 60 district and magistrate judges in the Southern District of New York, only one — Judge Deborah Batts in Manhattan — actually bangs a gavel.

With all that said, I still plan to watch Law & Order every week. It’s great entertainment, and it doesn’t remind me of work at all.