BY JULIE MANGANIS STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — It’s a detail that could bolster Peter Ronchi’s claim that Yulyia Galperina provoked him into killing her by telling him that the child she was about to deliver was not his.
But is it admissible?
Yitaliy Yeziersky, the father of Galperina’s third child, a little girl who was 2 when her mother was killed on May 16, 2009, took the witness stand yesterday morning.
He was asked just two questions by Ronchi’s attorney. Was he the girl’s father?
And had Galperina ever told him that he was not?
That second question was not answered yesterday, because it prompted an immediate objection from prosecutor Jean Curran, followed by a lengthy discussion at the side of the judge’s bench. And then Yeziersky, who appeared in court only after he was arrested on a bench warrant sought by the defense, and who tried unsuccessfully to take the Fifth, was sent home for the day.
Ronchi, 48, is on trial in the May 2009 stabbing death of his pregnant girlfriend, Galperina, 42, in her Salem Heights apartment. He’s charged with two counts of first-degree murder, but he and his lawyers are hoping to convince jurors that he is guilty only of manslaughter due to temporary insanity.
Depending on whether Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy decides his testimony is admissible, Yeziersky could be back in court this morning. The judge scheduled a hearing on the issue for 8:45 a.m.
So, Ronchi’s lawyers moved on to their next witness, a Russian teacher who testified that Ronchi signed up for lessons with her in March 2009.
“He said he was with some Russian people, and he wanted to communicate with them,” Sofiya Vinokurova said when asked by defense lawyer Chauncey Wood.
But under questioning by prosecutor Jean Curran, Vinokurova was uncertain about the number of classes Ronchi attended and said he never mentioned that he had a Russian girlfriend.
Then, the next witness, Connecticut State Trooper Edward Benecchi, took the stand. He testified about responding to a call regarding a man riding a bicycle on the Merritt Parkway, a major thoroughfare where cyclists aren’t allowed.
Ronchi told the trooper that he’d biked all the way from Marblehead, on his way to Oneonta, N.Y., where his late mother had lived. (In fact, he’d purchased the bike at a Walmart in Norwalk, Conn., hours earlier, Ronchi testified earlier this week).
Why not drive, the trooper asked. “He said he likes to look at rare plants,” Benecchi testified.
Under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Benecchi confirmed that Ronchi never mentioned his minivan, abandoned near a Walmart in Norwalk, nor did he ask for help, just directions.
Ronchi’s brother, Emil Ronchi, took the stand to describe their childhood and portrayed his brother as a misfit loner with whom he’d had a falling out, in part due to Peter Ronchi’s “increasing impossibility.”
Emil Ronchi testified that their mother was a Belgian war orphan adopted by an Italian-American family, and their father was a minister who brought her to Switzerland, then left her for another woman.
Throughout his life, Peter Ronchi relied on Emil, his younger brother, who was a certified financial planner, to make financial decisions and take care of things.
This was a source of increasing frustration, Emil Ronchi testified.
The two, who both lived in Marblehead, eventually stopped seeing each other entirely by 2008, though they sometimes exchanged emails.
Under cross-examination, Emil Ronchi acknowledged that his brother had largely managed his own bank accounts and had purchased certificates of deposit without Emil’s assistance, and that Emil was primarily involved in managing the family trust funds.
And countering the brother’s assertion that Ronchi did not interact with others, Curran pointed to his involvement in an adult soccer league.
Ronchi’s lawyers called an administrator at Cape Ann Waldorf School who brought documents that they hoped would counter the suggestion that Ronchi paid his children’s tuition two days before the killing because he knew he might not be available to do so.
But those records showed that in each prior year, Ronchi had paid the tuition in June or July, not May.
Another witness, Julie Spreadbury, who rented space to Ronchi for his massage therapy practice in Lynn, testified that Ronchi did tell her about Galperina’s pregnancy. “He was not unhappy,” Spreadbury, under questioning by Wood, testified.
Then, Curran asked her about the context of their conversation. It turns out Spreadbury had expressed her concerns about the unplanned pregnancy of her son’s girlfriend.
Unplanned pregnancy happens to older people, too, she said Ronchi told her, before confiding in her about Galperina’s baby on the way.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.