SALEM — After leaving Susan Slowick’s home on that Saturday night in May 2009, Peter Ronchi had one more commitment: his standing, late-Saturday-night visit to Yulyia Galperina’s Salem apartment.
He usually got there around 10 p.m., Ronchi, 48, told jurors yesterday, taking the witness stand in his own defense in his trial on first-degree murder charges.
Sometimes he’d visit earlier, say 9 p.m., and sometimes as late as 11, he acknowledged during cross-examination. He rarely stayed the night.
They almost never went out, save one trip to the movies he could recall.
But on this visit, there would be no sexual intimacy, he told jurors, because Galperina, 42, was due to give birth within days and they’d decided to wait until after the baby was born.
Then, however, she put on one of the nursing bras they’d recently purchased.
“I was bothered,” Ronchi said. “She wanted me to test it, and one thing would lead to another.”
The conversation turned to the baby, already named David. As they lay on the futon in the living room, where Galperina slept so her two children, ages 2 and 8, could have their own rooms, she brought up issues they had disagreed on, he said, including vaccinations and not introducing the baby to his older children.
“I was angry,” Ronchi admitted under questioning by his attorney, John Swomley. “She was going back on something.”
When he protested, “She said it’s her child, we’re not married, and she can do what she wants,” Ronchi testified.
“I told her that since I’m not making any decisions here, I’m leaving, and I got ready to leave,” he said. He said he offered to send money to support the baby.
“She said, ‘Don’t bother, it’s not your child,” he said.
What went through his mind at that moment, Swomley asked.
“Anger. Rage. It was not my child, I was not the father. Betrayed. Everything went up in smoke.”
“I just felt heat, I felt my heartbeat,” he continued. “I lost it.”
The next thing he remembers: “I was in the bathroom, it was like waking up. I had a knife in my hand. I looked down and my pants were covered in blood.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he continued. “I was on automatic, I was like a zombie.” He could feel a buzzing in his head, he testified. “It was surreal. It wasn’t real.”
Ronchi said he spotted a pair of pants in the bathroom.
“There was a pair of pants that worked,” he said, countering the prosecution’s argument that he brought the change of clothes to the apartment. “They weren’t my pants.”
Then he went back to the room where Galperina lay in a pool of blood.
“I bent over her; I don’t have the words,” he testified, hesitating. “I kissed her.”
Then he left.
Ronchi admits that he stabbed Galperina to death, killing both her and the unborn son she was due to deliver that week, a baby that DNA tests later showed was, in fact, Ronchi’s. He and his lawyers are hoping, however, that the jury will find that because he acted in the “heat of passion,” he is guilty only of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, as alleged by prosecutors.
At his Marblehead home, he grabbed leftover oxycodone pills that had been prescribed for his mother when she had cancer, then drove toward the Tobin Bridge, he said, intending to end his life.
But as he slowed down on the bridge, “I thought of my kids. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”
Under questioning by Swomley, Ronchi acknowledged that he’d been upset with Galperina about a year earlier when he suspected she had become pregnant.
He ended the relationship in a two-paragraph email sent while he was visiting Costa Rica, where he’d spent more than a decade working with the Peace Corps after graduating from Cornell.
He told Swomley and the jury that he felt that her getting pregnant was “unethical,” since they’d had an agreement not to have a child.
When she told him she was not pregnant, he responded with a message scribbled on the back of an old college term paper. “It is the way it had to be,” he wrote. “Reality could not have been different. I, or God, would see to that.”
Ronchi later explained that he meant it as a joke, telling jurors that Galperina sometimes referred to him as “God.”
The two got back together, and within months, Galperina was pregnant. Ronchi told jurors that while he hadn’t intended to have a child with her, she convinced him during a trip to Prince Edward Island that at her age, she didn’t have much time left to become a mother again.
“I acquiesced,” he said.
Under questioning by the prosecutor, Jean Curran, Ronchi admitted that he’d put off rewriting his will to provide for the child until just days before. And instead of including their baby in the Ronchi family trust, as his two older children were, he had decided to buy a life insurance policy.
Curran pressed Ronchi on his relationship with Susan Slowick, a fellow parent and teacher at Cape Ann Waldorf School, whom he’d seen earlier that evening. The two saw each other at least once a week, and while Slowick described the relationship as platonic when she testified on Monday, the two had attended several concerts together.
“It was a very nice friendship,” Ronchi said. “I was grateful. It was nice. ... She’s a very nice person.”
Ronchi had never told Slowick about Galperina or the baby, Slowick testified Monday.
Curran also elicited testimony about Ronchi’s past, including a brief boxing career in upstate New York after college and hunting trips during his youth, during which he had sometimes used the same hunting knife he brought with him to Galperina’s apartment.
Ronchi insisted that he believed he needed the knife for protection, telling jurors that he often saw “sketchy” people outside in the late hours when he usually arrived at Salem Heights.
Ronchi will be back on the witness stand this morning for more cross-examination.