Life without parole for killer of pregnant woman

Emotional day at the Westchester County Courthouse today, as Kasem Cunningham (left) is sentenced for fatally stabbing a pregnant woman 65 times during a home invasion.

Half the courtroom was filled with family, friends and supporters of victim Denisha McDuffy, who was two months pregnant when she was murdered. Cunningham offered no explanation for the brutal attack, but told county probation officers interviewing him for a pre-sentencing report that he was angry with his girlfriend who he suspected of cheating on him, and took out his anger on McDuffy.

The victim’s family, as well as prosecutors, urged the judge to give Cunningham the maximum sentence — life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. The judge, who had considered a 25-to-life sentence after Cunningham pleaded guilty, handed down the harsher sentence after reading reports from a psychologist and social worker, hearing victim impact statements from the woman’s family, and listening to Cunningham himself.

The deliberate, intentional and brutal actions of this defendant began as a burglary and ended with the senseless and tragic death of an innocent young woman,” District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a written statement. “Now this man will, rightfully, spend the rest of his life in prison. Excellent police work, analysis of the forensic evidence by the lab and the work of the Assistant District Attorneys assigned to this case brought this defendant to justice. He will now serve the maximum sentence which hopefully will provide a measure of comfort to the victim’s family.”

Daughter killer to be sentenced tomorrow


Stacey Pagli (left) will be sentenced to 20 years in prison tomorrow, April 5, for killing her 18-year-old daughter during an argument in the family’s Manhattanville College apartment last year.

Pagli, 39, was allowed to plead guilty last month to first-degree manslaughter, after psychiatrists for the prosecution and the defense  concluded she was under an “extreme emotional disturbance” when she strangled Marissa Pagli on the Purchase campus.

She originally was charged with second-degeree murder.

Pagli’s lawyer has said she is currently taking medication for depression. Her family history includes mental illness and several suicides.

Pagli attempted suicide after killing her daughter, and had at least one suicide attempt at the Westchester County jail, where she has been held since her arrest.

She will be eligible for parole in 2028, when her remaining daughter will be in her early 20s.

1 morning, 3 sentencings in Westchester courts

Busy day in Westchester County court today. Not only did the defense opened its case in the domestic violence trial of White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley, but three high-profile felons were sentenced for crimes including murder, vehicular manslaughter, grand larceny and insurance fraud.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea carried out a disposition and sent Alejandro Macias Barajas to prison for 22 years in the beating and stabbing death of a Hartsdale man who he claimed made unwanted sexual advances toward him. The victim’s mother was in court and described her heartbreak over losing her only son.

Meanwhile, Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli ordered White Plains dentist Joanne Baker to jail for six months (she’ll get credit for the 10 weeks she’s been there) for bilking MetLife out of nearly $9,000 with phony patient bills. Her pre-sentencing statement was interesting. We’ll learn in two days if she’ll spent a few more months at the county jail or be sent to state prison.

Zambelli also sentenced drunken driver Louis Nardella to serve 2 to 6 years in state prison for a violent crash that killed 29-year-old Amy Taylor of New Rochelle. The victim’s twin sister, Jennifer Taylor, spoke in court and moved family members to tears. Even the prosecutor was choked up. We may be hearing of “Amy’s Law” after this.

Accused bomb maker pleads guilty; will serve no jail time

A Cortlandt man who, officials say, offered an undercover officer homemade bombs in exchange for gun silencers last year admitted today to having illegal weapons and fireworks.

Gary Burstell, 53, (left) pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court to one felony count of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and a misdemeanor count unlawfully dealing with fireworks.

Burstell, a retired carpenter, will be sentenced to probation with time served on Jan 6, according to acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea. Burstell spent several days in jail after his arrest on Sept. 17, 2009 and is free on $500,000 bail.

Burstell got caught up in a cigarette smuggling sting, and investigators who raided his home in September 2009 said they found guns, ammunition and five “suspected homemade explosive devices.”

His lawyer, Kevin J. Kitson, had argued that Burstell only wanted the silencers to shoot at critters in his back yard without scaring the neighbors. He also said the “explosive devices” were smoke bombs to clear animals. Neither Kitson or Burstell had any comment after today’s plea bargain.

According to the indictment, Burstell offered to make bombs on July 30 to an officer posing as a cigarette smuggler. They didn’t speak again until Sept. 9, when Burstell allegedly agreed to see the silencers. Burstell handed the officer a homemade bomb the next day at 400 Nepperhan Ave. in Yonkers, where cops had set up an undercover warehouse for the cigarette case.

Four days later, on Sept. 14, the indictment alleges, Burstell arranged to meet the officer so he could collect the silencers.

According to court papers, on the day he was arrested, Burstell admitted to making the bomb but later recanted that statement, saying he’d bought the device three years earlier. He also told authorities that a .22-caliber handgun he had taken to the undercover warehouse on Sept. 10 was now in the Hudson River.

Kitson had said Burstell was guilty of nothing more than poor judgment and that the devices in his home were made in China and used on construction sites. He said the device shown to the undercover officer — and the basis for the criminal charge — was a “super blockbuster” purchased 15 years ago in Pennsylvania for $25.

Burstell’s guilty plea satisfied an eight-count indictment that included additional weapons charges and conspiracy. The felony weapon charge was punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Last defendant sentenced in Empire City casino rigging case

A Bronx woman will serve 12 weekends in jail for her role in a scheme to rig promotional cash giveaways at Empire City Casino when she was a manager there.

Former promotions coordinator Alicia Murray was given the jail term as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence today.

Murray was arrested last year with two other employees on charges they received kickbacks by rigging games at the Yonkers racetrack and casino. She was accused of stealing $30,688.

Murray pleaded guilty in March to four counts each of third- and fourth-degree grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud. All the charges are felonies. She will serve weekends in jail, starting this Friday, until Dec. 19.

At the sentencing, acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea questioned why a college-educated woman such as Murray would commit such an act and criticized her for not repaying more of what she had stolen.

She already repaid $2,400 and  was supposed to turn over another $2,500 today, but came to court with an $800 check. Molea told her that if she didn’t come up with the other $1,700 by Wednesday, she would violate her probation and be re-sentenced.

“I’m really not happy with the way this is proceeding,” he said.

Murray, a 33-year-old single mother, apologized for her actions and said she looked forward to putting the situation behind her. She will pay $489 a month for the next five years as restitution.

She is the only defendant in the case to receive any jail time.

Her boss, Donna Cronin, was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and ordered to find work so she could repay the $100,000 she stole. Molea  said he was swayed by “sincere and compelling” letters written on Cronin’s behalf urging him to keep her out of jail. Cronin had agreed to serve six months in jail as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence.

Cronin had paid $17,000 in restitution by the time she was sentenced.

The third defendant, Terence Osborne of Yonkers , 25, is serving five years’ probation and has repaid the $16,049 he stole.

According to prosecutors, the three ran a scam to let friends and relatives win promotional contests from December 2006 through August 2008.

They told the selected “winners” to be at certain slot machines in the casino while the drawings were held. They would then rig the contests so the chosen few would win cash, electronics, hotel stays and Broadway tickets. On many of these occasions, the workers got kickbacks — mostly in cash, it was alleged.

The rigged contests never compromised the casino’s video slot machines, authorities said.

After the investigation began, the New York Lottery ordered Empire City to bring in a consultant to review internal controls and management practices.

Landscaper pleads guilty in beating, stabbing death in Hartsdale

A 21-year-old landscaper admitted in court today that he murdered a 44-year-old hotel manager in his Hartsdale condominium, after claiming the victim made unwanted sexual advances after inviting him out for a drink.

Alejandro Macias Barajas (left) pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and possession of stolen property in the beating and stabbing death of Leonid “Lenny” Eylinkrig nearly a year ago.

Prosecutors said Macias Barajas killed Eylinkrig between 8 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 12, stole the victim’s credit cards and cell phone from the apartment and fled in Eylinkrig’s car.

Macias Barajas, a Mexican immigrant who was here on a legal visa, agreed to serve 22 years to life in state prison as part of his plea in Westchester County Court. He faced a life sentence without parole had he been convicted at trial.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea said he would sentence Macias Barajas  on  Nov. 16.

According to court records, Macias Barajas told Greenburgh detectives that he agreed to meet Eylinkrig for a drink and went to his apartment at the High Point condos on Sept. 12. He said that when  Eylinkrig came onto him, he punched him and beat him unconscious with a beer mug. He then stabbed him in the chest with a metal pick, according to police statements.

Eylinkrig, a Ukranian immigrant, was the director of services at the La Guardia Airport Marriott amd taught business, computers and management at New York City College of Technology.

His body was discovered by police the afternoon of Sept. 13 after his mother was concerned that he had never picked her up for Rosh Hashana services that morning and wasn’t answering his phone.

It was the second homicide that weekend in Greenburgh. The previous morning, owner Anthony Fizzinoglia was found shot to death in the office of his Lukoil gas station on Tarrytown Road. That murder remains unsolved.

Detectives had been working around-the-clock on the first killing when they learned of the second. Within 10 hours, they tracked down Barajas through cell-phone records and discovered Eylinkrig’s car behind 8 East Hartsdale Ave., where Barajas lived. They took him to Greenburgh police headquarters, where he gave a statement.

Elderly wife-killing suspect appears in court

For the first time in months, Paul Weinstein appeared in Westchester County Court on charges that he fatally shot his sickly wife last year.

Weinstein, a 78-year-old pharmacist, shuffled into the courtroom using a walker with wheels.  He had missed his last few court appearances due to medical problems. He has been incarcerated since his arrest on Sept. 23 — the day his wife was shot.

The diminutive Weinstein sat in a chair as his court-appointed lawyer, Allan Focarile of the Legal Aid Society, and prosecutor Christine O’Connor had a bench conference with acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea.  Weinstein is due back in court on June 10, at which time the case will be assigned a trial judge or be resolved with a plea bargain.

According to court papers, Weinstein told police that an argument with his wife “set him off” and that he shot her dead in their New Rochelle home after he failed to suffocate her with a pillow.

He used a World War II-era Walther handgun to shoot his wife as she lay in bed in their 12th-floor apartment at a senior citizen housing complex at 35 Maple Ave. He then called 911 to report what had happened and, after a brief standoff with police, surrendered.

Weinstein insisted his wife’s slaying was a mercy killing.