SALEM — If one key to Peter Ronchi’s defense is to claim he brought the hunting knife to his pregnant girlfriend’s apartment on the night he killed her with it because he feared for his safety in a “sketchy” low-income housing development, two of the state’s first three witnesses may have undercut that yesterday.
Prosecutor Jean Curran asked Tomas Cruz, one of the men who went to the aid of Yulyia Galperina’s children after they found her on the living room floor, to describe the Salem Heights apartments where he also lived.
“A normal area, safe, good people,” Cruz responded, before Curran cut him off. She had meant for him to describe the buildings themselves, the two brick high-rises, where he lived down the hall from Galperina, 42, and her young children, ages 8 and 2.
Defense lawyer John Swomley, who is defending Ronchi, 48, of Marblehead, against two counts of first-degree murder, seized on the statement.
Did the prosecutor, asked Swomley, ask him to testify that the building was safe? “No, sir,” said Cruz, who explained that he’d simply misunderstood Curran’s question.
Swomley was unpersuaded. “Did you have an understanding that talking about the building’s safety would help this case?” he pressed, suggesting that he must have spoken to either Curran or lead Salem police detective James Page before taking the stand yesterday.
Cruz was firm. “No.” He’d spoken to them weeks ago, but not about the building’s safety.
Then veteran Salem Patrolman James Johnson was asked by Swomley how often he responds to calls at Salem Heights.
Johnson estimated he’d gone there 50 to 75 times over the course of his 27-year career as a police officer.
Swomley tried to suggest that Johnson had gone there more often than any other complex in the city. But Johnson said he’s probably responded to even more calls at Pequot Highlands, another privately owned apartment complex in the city.