BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Eleven jurors were selected yesterday in the trial of a Marblehead man charged with repeatedly stabbing his pregnant girlfriend, killing both her and the nearly full-term baby she was carrying.
Peter Ronchi, 48, is facing two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Yuliya Galperina, 42, and the unborn child, identified on the indictment as “Baby Boy Galperina.”
Prosecutors say the killing was premeditated, pointing to the hunting knife that Ronchi allegedly brought with him to the victim’s Salem Heights apartment on the evening of May 16, 2009, and a will he’d recently rewritten that included his children from his marriage but not the child Galperina was expecting.
But Ronchi’s defense team, three privately hired attorneys, will try to convince the jury that Ronchi was suffering from diminished mental capacity at the time of the killing, and that he suddenly snapped, something Ronchi told police after his arrest.
Jury selection will continue this morning. A total of 16 jurors, four of whom will later be chosen as alternates, will be selected to hear the case.
The jurors selected yesterday were told to report to the courthouse by midmorning, and opening statements could take place by 11 a.m.
Ronchi, appearing thinner and pale in a somewhat rumpled gray suit, his mustache shaved off and his hair cut short, sat quietly at the defense table, as his lawyers and prosecutors questioned potential jurors for much of the day at the side of the judge’s bench.
After some debate yesterday morning between prosecutors Jean Curran and Jana DiNatale, who believe the case will take two weeks to try, and defense lawyers John Swomley, David Nathanson and Chauncey Wood, who said it could take up to five weeks, Judge David Lowy warned jurors that the trial could last four to five weeks.
That length of time was expected to pose potential problems for many in the jury pool. The jurors were asked if such a long trial would pose a substantial hardship, and a number of the jurors indicated that it would.
The jury pool of some 70 potential jurors was also questioned beforehand on whether they had any prior knowledge of the case from the media.
Just 11 people raised their juror cards to indicate that they had. The defense had previously expressed concern about the effect of pretrial publicity on the case.
Jurors who were chosen yesterday were, however, warned, not to read or listen to any coverage of the trial. Reporters for three news organizations, including The Salem News, were present in court yesterday.
The defense had also hoped to question jurors about potential bias against wealthy Marbleheaders with trust funds, like Ronchi.
Nathanson, one of the defense lawyers, suggested that he’s heard comments on the street and, he said, seen comments in the newspaper, to the effect that Marblehead residents have a sense of “entitlement.”
“I won’t take that personally,” quipped the judge, who lives in Marblehead, before rejecting the request, saying it would serve only to put the notion in jurors’ heads. “I’m not going to poison the jury with a question like that,” Lowy said.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.