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Vocapedia > USA > Law, Justice > State justice


Arraignment > Plea



















The Plea

Aired: 06/17/2004        01:24:38        Rating: NR

Nearly 95 percent of all cases

resulting in felony convictions

never reach a jury.


They are settled

through plea bargains

in which a defendant agrees

to plead guilty in exchange

for a reduced sentence.


But what are the implications

of a system that relies on pleas

to expedite justice?

Aired: 06/17/04










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Vocapedia > USA > Law, Justice > State justice


Arraignment > Plea




In Guilty Plea,

Actress’s Killer

Changes Story to Robbery


February 15, 2008

The New York Times



His original confession had the ring of truth: He was an illegal immigrant working on a renovation job in a Greenwich Village building when the imperious woman upstairs confronted him over construction noise.

They argued. She scratched him. Panicked that she would call the police and that he would be deported, he punched her and pushed her to the floor. Mistakenly thinking he had killed her, he hanged her from the shower rod of her bathroom, in a staged suicide.

But in a courtroom on Thursday, the construction worker, Diego Pillco, 20, told a very different story of how he killed the woman, Adrienne Shelly, a filmmaker, on Nov. 1, 2006. Ms. Shelly, who was 40 and the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, had just finished a film, “Waitress,” which opened to warm reviews after her death.

Mr. Pillco, a short, boyish-looking man, speaking softly through a Spanish translator, told a judge in State Supreme Court in Manhattan that the argument had not been over noise, but over a robbery.

He told the judge that Ms. Shelly had caught him stealing money from her purse after he had slipped into the apartment at 15 Abingdon Square that she used as an office.

When she picked up the phone to call the police, he said, he grabbed it and covered her mouth as she started to scream.

“When she fell to the floor I saw a sheet and decided to choke her, and that’s what happened,” Mr. Pillco said.

The judge, Carol Berkman, prodded him: “And you tied a sheet around her neck and strung her up?”

“Yes,” Mr. Pillco replied, “and I made it look as if she committed suicide on her own.”

It sounded like a straightforward confession to murder, which could have brought Mr. Pillco a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, if he had been convicted by a jury.

Instead, Mr. Pillco pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, first-degree manslaughter, and was promised a fixed sentence of 25 years in a deal negotiated with the Manhattan district attorney.

It was a hard choice dictated by the existence of the first confession, according to an official in the district attorney’s office, who was not authorized to speak on the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If he had gone to trial, the official said, Mr. Pillco probably would have stuck by his original story, which might have convinced a jury that Ms. Shelly’s death was merely reckless, even though the prosecution would have argued otherwise.

In that case, if convicted he could have received a maximum sentence of 15 years. It appeared that the defense may have feared the opposite outcome, that Mr. Pillco would be convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Mr. Pillco’s lawyer, Thomas Klein, of the Legal Aid Society, declined to comment on his strategy.

Ms. Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, her stepdaughter and other relatives sat quietly in the courtroom during the hearing and declined to comment afterward.

But their grim faces conveyed what the judge said out loud: that their assent had been given reluctantly. “Well, I’m not going to ask whether they’re happy with this,” Justice Berkman said, after the lead prosecutor, Peter Casolaro, assured her that the family had agreed to the plea.

There was little about Mr. Pillco’s first confession that added up, according to prosecutors. He told detectives five days after the killing that Ms. Shelly had confronted him in the apartment where he was working. The floor of that apartment was covered in gypsum dust, the prosecutor said, yet Ms. Shelly’s shoes, socks and the hems of her pants were clean.

Rather, it was Mr. Pillco’s shoeprints, traced in construction dust on the toilet and the rim of the bathtub where Ms. Shelly’s husband found her hanging, that gave him away.

Mr. Pillco, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador, had come to the United States 8 to 10 months before the murder, the official said.

Ms. Shelly, who was born in Queens as Adrienne Levine, had just finished “Waitress,” a film about an unhappily married, pregnant waitress who finds joy in baking pies (and having an affair) that she wrote, directed and appeared in. The film was later shown at the Sundance Film Festival and then went into wider release.

Ms. Shelly was best known for her roles in Hal Hartley’s dark comedies “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust.” She also appeared in more than two dozen Off Broadway plays and in television shows.

In court on Thursday, after Justice Berkman asked, “What happened?” Mr. Pillco gave this account.

He had been returning from lunch in the basement of the building when he saw Ms. Shelly in an elevator. “The lady was coming up in the elevator,” he said. “So when I saw her, I decided to rob her.”

He waited on an upstairs landing and watched her go into her apartment. She left the door open, he said, and he slipped in, took her purse, and removed money; he did not say how much.

After describing the fight for the phone and the struggle that ensued, he stopped his recitation. After a conversation with his lawyer, he added one last sentence. Mr. Pillco’s final words to the court were, “I just want to ask forgiveness to her family.”

The judge replied, “I doubt that you will get that, sir.”

In Guilty Plea, Actress’s Killer Changes Story to Robbery,










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