SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 11, 2012

Defense seeks to bar photos of baby

BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — Lawyers for the Marblehead man charged with repeatedly stabbing his pregnant girlfriend, killing both her and their unborn but nearly full-term baby, sought yesterday to prevent prosecutors from using autopsy photos of the fetus.

“There’s nothing to look at other than a blue child,” said defense lawyer Chauncey Wood, one of three privately retained attorneys representing Peter Ronchi, 48, in his trial on two counts of first-degree murder.

At the reference to his dead son, Ronchi, who has claimed the attack was provoked by Yulyia Galperina’s purported statement that the baby she was about to deliver was not his, Ronchi broke down in the courtroom, weeping into a handkerchief during the late-afternoon hearing in Salem Superior Court.

Wood argued that the photos would serve only to bias the jurors against his client.

Judge David Lowy, meanwhile, said he cannot rule one way or the other on the autopsy photos until he hears testimony from the medical examiner, leaving the issue unresolved for now.

It was one of a series of contentious motions in the case, argued at the end of a second day of jury selection in the trial, which Ronchi’s lawyers have said could last up to five weeks.

The lawyers have now gone through two full Superior Court jury pools of about 70 people each and yesterday considered another 10 potential jurors who were sent over from Peabody District Court after lunch. They still need to choose two more jurors, a task that Lowy told the lawyers should be completed this morning.

Lowy told the lawyers that he expects to have opening statements in the case by 11 a.m.

But before then, the judge will have to rule on several other pretrial motions, including a request by the prosecution to prevent the defense from calling a series of “bad character” witnesses.

Ronchi’s lawyers want to call witnesses that include Galperina’s ex-husband, a psychiatrist, who would testify about a Benadryl overdose that Galperina, who was 42 when she died, allegedly administered to their son.

They also want to call a Swampscott police officer who investigated a report that Galperina had left two children unattended in a car parked outside a Vinnin Square grocery store months before her death.

The lawyers suggest that Galperina lied during both incidents, just as Ronchi says she did during their final, fatal argument.

The problem, Lowy pointed out, is that there’s no evidence Ronchi knew she was lying, nor any evidence that he knew of the earlier incidents, unless he takes the witness stand and testifies to that effect.

And even if Galperina lied in the past, “It doesn’t mean you can be murdered,” the judge said.

The lawyers also argued over the prosecution’s request to bar the use of Ronchi’s second statement to police.

After initially telling an officer that he “thought he’d killed his girlfriend,” he gives a more detailed but, prosecutors say, more self-serving statement, in which he says, “I had a moment of craziness. I had a moment of rage and anger,” then goes on to explain why he had brought the hunting knife (Galperina lived in “low-income housing,” he told police).

Ronchi then went on to tell officers that Galperina “says things to make me crazy.”

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