, Salem, MA

November 7, 2012

Murder or manslaughter?

Jury now has Ronchi's fate in hands

The Salem News

---- — SALEM — Peter Ronchi knew that he’d killed Yulyia Galperina as he fled her apartment and then the state in the hours after her death, his lawyer acknowledged to jurors yesterday during his closing argument.

But he hadn’t gone there with the intention of doing it, defense lawyer John Swomley said.

Or had he? That’s what was suggested by prosecutor Jean Curran, playing the surveillance video showing Ronchi arriving at Galperina’s Salem Heights apartment on the evening of May 16, 2009, in one set of clothes and leaving in another.

Besides that, there was the other evidence: the hunting knife Ronchi brought with him; the newly written will that left baby David out of the Ronchi family trust and offered him just a quarter of Ronchi’s liquid assets “if and when” he was born; the postdated checks written out on May 14, paying $31,000 in tuition to his children’s school for the following year and another, for $10,000, to his ex-wife, who did not have full-time physical custody of the two.

And even if they don’t believe he went to the apartment that night with a plan to kill her, the prosecutor suggested, he had time to stop and think about what he was doing, she argued.

Not so, Swomley said.

“Peter Ronchi killed Yulyia Galperina,” Swomley told the Salem Superior Court jury, who must now decide whether Ronchi, 48, of Marblehead, is guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter in the deaths of Galperina, 42, and their unborn child.

Jurors will return to the courthouse today to deliberate.

“We concede he tried to kill her,” Swomley told jurors. But, he suggested, “In that moment, he acted under a heat of passion, which allows you to conclude that he did not form the two elements necessary for first-degree murder. He did not form a deliberate premeditated plan, and/or he did not have in his mind at the moment he killed Ms. Galperina an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his actions or that they were cruel or atrocious.”

He snapped, Swomley said, the culmination of years of depression, anxiety, Asperger’s and a host of other problems, coupled with exhaustion and the stress of trying to figure out how to provide for a baby.

Aside from his compromised mental state, the defense suggested, there was not a single moment that evening to “coolly reflect” on what he was about to do, Swomley said. Ronchi is guilty of no more than manslaughter, the defense lawyer suggested.

Curran disagreed, describing how Ronchi had ended the argument by announcing he was leaving and would send money, as he put on his jacket, the one containing a hunting knife.

And even as Galperina allegedly responded by telling him the child, due that week, was not his, he did have time to think, to pull the knife from his pocket and from the sheath, she argued.

“The evidence is there to support a finding of the premeditated murder of Yulyia Galperina and her unborn child,” said Curran, who also argued that the jury could find Ronchi guilty under a theory of first-degree murder through extreme atrocity or cruelty, pointing to testimony from a coroner that Galperina did not die immediately from the 14 stab wounds inflicted by Ronchi.

Swomley, who had made his closing first, suggested that the prosecutor would be forced to back down from her original theory in the case that Ronchi planned the killing.

“The dispute here is about premeditation,” Swomley argued to jurors. “The government began this case by saying Mr. Ronchi came to the apartment that night with the intent to kill Ms. Galperina.”

He called the details offered by the prosecutor about Ronchi’s actions leading up to the night of the killing a “red herring.”

Curran did not abandon her original premise, however. She offered the jury an alternate theory, one they could consider instead if they rejected the idea that Ronchi plotted the killing.

“However, if you look at the evidence and you take the position that none of those little details matter to you,” the prosecutor said, there is evidence of premeditation that night. “If in your assessment of the evidence, you’re looking at that fight, one can find the elements for not only a premeditated murder, but one that is committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty. He tells you he was angry, that he was frustrated, that his anger and frustration got to the point where he made the decision, ‘I’m leaving.’ He puts on his coat, but he does not walk out the door.”

Instead, “He picks up the knife. He takes it out of its sheath. This was the knife that he plunged into various locations on the body of Yulyia Galperina that night,” Curran said.

Curran also argued that contrary to the defense expert’s testimony last week that Ronchi was a man who struggled with identifying emotions, letters he gave to Galperina during their relationship showed otherwise.

Swomley repeatedly reminded jurors about the stresses in Ronchi’s life, including an estrangement from his brother, the tension between his own children and Galperina, and his failing massage therapy business.

But Curran, in her closing, countered with Ronchi’s increasingly close friendship with Susan Slowick, a teacher at Cape Ann Waldorf School, which his children attended, reminding jurors he’d spent time at her home that very evening before going to Galperina’s Salem Heights apartment.

And as for the suggestion that Ronchi’s business failed because he was unable to form connections with others, Curran pointed to the ample money he had available to him through a trust fund worth more than $1 million and additional assets that at one point were around $200,000. Perhaps, the prosecutor suggested, Ronchi simply did not need to worry about money.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.