BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — As he drove in the rain toward the Tobin Bridge in the hours after stabbing his pregnant girlfriend, Yulyia Galperina, multiple times, killing both her and the baby, Peter Ronchi said he had a plan to kill himself.
So, then, prosecutor Jean Curran asked, why was there a duffel bag packed with clothes in the back of his minivan?
Ronchi couldn’t answer, telling Curran he does not remember packing the bag, though he “may have.”
Ronchi said that when he realized he couldn’t carry out his suicide plan — “It’s not easy to kill yourself,” he told jurors — he got another idea.
“I did get the idea of going to New York, to my mother’s property,” he said. “My mother was buried there. I wanted to be close to her.”
But, Ronchi said, he got lost on his way to Oneonta, N.Y., ending up instead in Norwalk, Conn.
Then he ran out of gas.
So why didn’t he just use either his Visa World Wildlife Fund credit card or his Eastern Bank ATM card to get more gas at a nearby station, or his ATM card at the nearby bank, the prosecutor asked.
Ronchi had no explanation.
Instead, he spent nearly all of the cash he had on him, about $130, at a nearby Walmart.
He bought a bike and a helmet. He picked up a backpack, a rain suit and a poncho.
Then he went back to his minivan; took some items, including a Leatherman tool and his son’s fishing rod; filled his backpack; and began pedaling away, abandoning the minivan.
The bike, he insisted, was a birthday present for his son. But first, “I was planning to ride that to Oneonta.”
(Oneonta, in upstate New York, is more than 180 miles away from Norwalk).
“You weighed the pros and cons?” Curran asked, attempting to undercut his claim that he had lost his ability to reason.
“By that time, I was pretty aware of the situation,” Ronchi said. And, “I was afraid, too.”
“I just wanted to get away from everything,” he continued. “I just wanted to get away.”
“So you made a plan to get away,” the prosecutor suggested.
Ronchi, 48, of Marblehead, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the May 16, 2009, deaths of Galperina, 42, of Salem, and their unborn son, already named David. Prosecutors allege that he planned the crime, bringing with him a hunting knife and a change of clothes to her apartment.
Ronchi and his lawyers are hoping to convince jurors that he suddenly snapped after, they say, Galperina told him the baby was not his, and that because of that temporary insanity, he is guilty of no more than manslaughter.
In his testimony both on Tuesday and again yesterday, Ronchi claimed no memory of the actual crime, only an increasing rage at Galperina during an argument over the way the baby, due on May 21, would be raised.
Instead, he testified, he slowly became aware of what he had done as he stood in Galperina’s Salem Heights bathroom, his hands and pants soaked with blood.
But during her cross-examination of Ronchi, which began Tuesday and continued yesterday, Curran sought to show that Ronchi was perfectly capable of planning not only his attempted escape, but of preparing for the possibility that he might not be available for a while after killing Galperina.
Curran pressed Ronchi on the knife, a 6-inch hunting knife he testified on Tuesday that he carried for his own safety during his visits to Galperina.
Ronchi said Tuesday that he had the knife, in a leather sheath, in his jacket pocket. But yesterday, under questioning by the prosecutor, he could not say whether he was wearing the jacket as the two argued. Nor could he recall where Galperina was when he pulled the knife out, whether she was lying on the futon or sitting up.
“I really can’t remember the details,” Ronchi pleaded, as Curran asked for specifics.
“I’ve gone through this a thousand times already,” he testified.
“You pulled the knife out,” Curran said.
“I don’t remember,” Ronchi responded.
“When she said that I just lost it, I lost my reasoning, as I said yesterday, I was enraged, I don’t remember.”
Two days before he stabbed Galperina, Ronchi rewrote his will, he acknowledged yesterday. He had testified Tuesday that he decided not to include the new baby in a family trust fund that provided for his older children, instead indicating that he would purchase a life insurance policy for Galperina and the child.
And though it wasn’t due for another month and a half, Ronchi also paid the full tuition for both of his older children for the following year at Cape Ann Waldorf School. The money came from a checking account funded with a $200,000 inheritance. He also had access to a $1 million trust fund, he testified.
Ronchi, when given the opportunity by his own lawyer to explain, told jurors that he was worried that his friend Susan Slowick’s hours as a music teacher at the school would be cut and that “any little bit” of funding for the school would help.
Slowick and Ronchi, who had known each other for about five years, had been spending an increasing amount of time together in the six months before his arrest, he acknowledged yesterday. They attended concerts and visited each other, sometimes with their children.
Both say it was just a friendship.
“You never told Ms. Slowick that you were dating a woman named Yulyia Galperina and that you were expecting the birth of your child,” the prosecutor suggested.
“I don’t think I told her,” Ronchi responded.
His lawyer, John Swomley, leaped up moments later, when it was his turn again to question Ronchi.
“Were you dogging Ms. Slowick? Were you trying to be in a relationship?” Swomley asked, waving his arms.
“No,” Ronchi said.
But after Swomley suggested that it was Galperina’s idea not to tell anyone about the pregnancy, Curran took another turn at questioning Ronchi on the issue.
In fact, hadn’t Ronchi told many others about the pregnancy, including his brother, his children and ex-wife, along with a fellow massage therapist and another friend of his, the prosecutor asked.
“There were a few,” he conceded.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.