Flowing tears in Judge Zambelli’s court

It was the day of tear-filled emotional sentencings in the Westchester County courtroom of Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right) blubbered as he was sentenced to serve 3 to 9 years in state prison for unintentionally killing his friend in New Rochelle two years ago. Pileggi’s tears followed the sobs of Gail Everett, the mother of victim Andre Everett, who called Pileggi “evil” and swore never to forgive him. The prosecution asked for the maximum semtence: 15 years in prison. The defense asked for the minimum: time served with probation. Zambelli, as I predicted, split it down the middle, allowing Pileggi to apply for parole in a little more than two years.

Three hours later,  Francisco Acevedo (left) was sentenced to life for the cold-case serial killings of three women in south Yonkers.  The daughter of one of the victims, who was three when her mother was killed, and the mother of the second victim sobbed as they railed against Acevedo, calling him a monster, an animal, and other insults.

Danielle Hodges of The Bronx, who is the sister of one of the victims, did not speak at the sentencing. After it was over, she said it brought closure. “My sister is finally free,” she said.

Acevedo’s sentencing was delayed because he had not been brought to the courthouse in time from Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, where he is serving a 1 to 3-year stint on a felony drunken driving conviction out of Suffolk County.

There were two other high-profile cases today that were both brief and unemotional. Ex-Mayor Adam Bradley’s ongoing domestic violence case was adjourned to March 5 while the case of Tappan Zee Bridge dangler Michael Davitt was postponed to Feb. 24 in Greenburgh Town Court.

Two killers, a mayor and a dangler: an unusual day in Westchester courts

It’s going to be an interesting morning in the local judicial system on Tuesday: a county judge will hand down sentences in two high-profile homicide cases, while the ex-White Plains mayor will be in a nearby courtroom to answer probation violation charges, at the same time as the Tappan Zee bridge dangler will appear in Greenburgh Town Court.

First, the sentencings:

Francisco Acevedo (left) will be sentenced in the murders of three women in south Yonkers over a seven-year period starting in 1989. Acevedo had sex with each of them before strangling them, posing their nude bodies to face upward and fleeing the scene. Acevedo was caught after he submitted DNA in a bid to get early release from prison on a drunken driving conviction. Westchester Judge Barbara Zambelli, who has a reputation for tough sentences, may give him three consecutive prison terms of 25 to life, for a total of 75 to life.

Whatever the sentence, I expect it will be an emotional closure for the families of the women and for John T. Geiss, the dogged Yonkers detective who pursued the cold case for years.

Zambelli also will be sentencing ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right), who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the unintentional (but criminally reckless) shooting of his friend, Andre Everett. This is a sentencing with wide options: Pileggi could get as little as probation or as much as 15 years in state prison; it’s completely Zambelli’s call. She could rule down the middle: 4 to 7 years or perhaps 7 to 10. Pileggi’s family vowed to launch a massive letter-writing campaign begging the judge for leniency. The question is, did Everett’s family do the same, urging Zambelli to go the other way?

Down the hall from Zambelli’s court, ex-Mayor Adam Bradley (left) will appear before acting state Supreme Court Justice Susan Cacace on charges that he violated a stay-away order by calling his estranged wife, Fumiko, late last year. Bradley swears he repeatedly “pocket dialed” her by accident. Bradley had to post $10,000 bail for his smartphone snafu. We’ll see what, if anything, happens in the latest twist of this ongoing domestic violence case.

 

Finally, disgruntled Rockland County resident Michael Davitt (right) will be in Greenburgh Town Court on charges related to his November publicity stunt in which he dangled mid-span from the Tappan Zee Bridge. Davitt, an ex-county employee, is facing several misdemeanors and violations. He worked for the county for more than 27 years before being was suspended in 2008, and then became a fixture at county Legislature meetings, claiming corruption in government. No word on if or when a plea deal is coming., but I’d be surprised if this case goes to trial. My guess is that he’ll plead guilty to one or more of the charges and get a conditional discharge, with a fine, of course.

Age and the Pileggi trial

In the middle of a heated cross-examination of former Eastchester Police Officer James Pileggi this morning came this amusing moment:

Pileggi, on trial for second-degree manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of his friend, Andre Everett, was trying to explain how he and his friends greeted Everett on the night of the shooting. Assistant District Attorney Fredric Green asked Pileggi what he meant when he said they “exchanged the usual pleasantries.” Pileggi, 30, said the greetings were along the lines of ‘Hey, what’s up,’ and other words common to his “age group.”

“I’m not so old, I understand,”  replied the 50-year-old prosecutor.

County Judge Barbara Zambelli, who is in her late 50s, couldn’t let the moment pass.

“You’re ‘not so old?'” she said with a smile. The jury and the crowded courtroom had a chuckle at Green’s expense. The veteran prosecutor smiled and nodded, then continued his questioning.

Pileggi to face civil charges after criminal case

The manslaughter trial of ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi began yesterday, and Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli’s courtroom quickly filled with family members of both the defendant and victim, Andre Everett. The emotional trial will continue Monday with more testimony from prosecutors Fredric Green and Alexis Celestin, who are arguing that Pileggi’s decision to play with a loaded Glock on Nov. 3, 2009 was criminally reckless.

Pileggi faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

No matter the outcome of the trial, Pileggi will likely face a civil suit by the Everett family. In January 2010, the family filed a notice of claim, a precursor to filing a lawsuit, against the Eastchester Police Department of the Town of Eastchester. According to the notice, the family is claiming wrongful death, pain and suffering and negligent hiring, training and monitoring of Pileggi, among the claims.

“Respondents, through their agents, servant and employees, knew or should have known of P.O. James Pileggi Jr.’s violent and unsafe propensities and failed to act reasonably under the circumstances,” the notice states.

Typically, a lawsuit must be filed within a year of filing a notice of claim, but instead a summons was served to the town a couple of months ago. The family’s civil attorney, Jared Rice of Rice & Rice in New Rochelle, said the distraught family did not want to ensure a criminal trial and civil action at the same time and will wait until the criminal case is over to proceed with any legal action.

Pileggi case going to trial

It was a bit tense in Courtroom 301 today, where a former Eastchester police officer accused of accidentally shooting an acquaintance to death had a pre-trial court appearance before acting state Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel.

Supporters of ex-officer James Pileggi and victim Andre Everett showed up, and court officers were talking afterward about the tense stares exchanged by both sides. Eastchester Police Chief Timothy Bonci also came to watch the brief proceedings. No angry words were exchanged, but court officers say they will make sure things continue to stay calm. The case is expected to go to trial in a couple of months.

Everett, a 27-year-old real estate agent, was killed in his driveway in New Rochelle on Nov. 3. He walked out of his house when Pileggi’s white Infiniti pulled up with Pileggi inside. As Pileggi showed off the laser feature of the 9 mm Glock, the gun went off, shooting Everett in the throat as he stood by the rear driver’s-side door.

Pileggi, a 29-year-old Eastchester resident, was charged with second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 15 years in state prison if convicted. He insists the shooting was a tragic accident, not a crime.

Pileggi, who is free on $50,000 bail, will appear again at the Westchester County Courthouse on June 17 in the Trial Assignment Part.

Photo: James Pileggi