People v. Fiumefreddo

Decision Date16 December 1993
Citation82 N.Y.2d 536,605 N.Y.S.2d 671,626 N.E.2d 646
Parties, 626 N.E.2d 646 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Joan FIUMEFREDDO, Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Mary-Carroll Rothwell, New York City, and Philip L. Weinstein, for appellant.

William L. Murphy, Dist. Atty. of Richmond County, Staten Island (Yolanda L. Rudich, Karen F. McGee and Jonathan J. Silbermann, of counsel), for respondent.

Kevin Dillon, Dist. Atty. of Erie County, Buffalo, and James M. Catterson, Jr., Dist. Atty. of Suffolk County, Riverhead (Steven A. Hovani, of counsel), for New York State Dist. Attys. Ass'n, amicus curiae.

OPINION OF THE COURT

HANCOCK, Judge.

Defendant was indicted together with her father and other accomplices for second degree murder and other crimes in connection with the death of her husband. She pleaded guilty to the murder count and was sentenced in accordance with a negotiated plea to 18 years to life. At the time set for sentencing she moved unsuccessfully to withdraw her plea, claiming that it was coerced because the favorable plea bargain offered at the same time to her father was conditioned upon her acceptance of the plea offer. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed.

Defendant contends before our Court that her guilty plea was involuntarily given and that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a hearing or other detailed inquiry to establish the voluntariness of the plea before denying her motion to withdraw it. For reasons to be explained, we agree with the Appellate Division that the inquiry conducted by the court at the time of the withdrawal motion was sufficient and that the record demonstrates that defendant "intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily entered her plea of guilty" (People v. Fiumefreddo, 188 A.D.2d 546, 547, 591 N.Y.S.2d 357). Accordingly, there should be an affirmance.

I The Crime

The following evidence regarding the crime appears in the record in defendant's presentence report, the guilty plea allocutions of defendant and her father, codefendant Salvatore Capriccioso, and in the confessions and guilty plea allocutions of Christopher Munroe, Joseph Gurrieri, and Frank Rich, the accomplices and coconspirators in the murder of Philip Fiumefreddo, defendant's 73-year-old husband.

There is evidence that defendant worked as a waitress at a diner in Staten Island, where she met Philip Fiumefreddo. After a two-month courtship, defendant and Fiumefreddo were married in February 1984; she was then 39 and he was 68. Throughout 4 1/2 years of marriage to Fiumefreddo, defendant often complained to acquaintances about him, stating that she wished him dead. In the early fall of 1988, she told acquaintances that her husband, who was making plans to divorce her, would be dead by Thanksgiving and indicated that she was arranging for someone to kill him.

Sometime in early September, defendant's father Salvatore Capriccioso withdrew $3,200 from the bank and gave it to defendant for the purpose of hiring someone to do the act. Defendant gave the $3,200 to a coemployee, but he decided he could not do it and gave the money back. She returned the funds to her father, who in early October gave the $3,200 to Frank Rich another of defendant's coemployees. Rich, in turn, transferred the money to Joseph Gurrieri, also a coemployee, with the understanding that Gurrieri would arrange for the murder. Defendant discussed the "deal" she had made with Gurrieri with several other coemployees at the restaurant where she worked.

Gurrieri, however, instead of arranging for the killing, spent the $3,200 on himself. Defendant kept pressing Gurrieri to perform the contract and threatened that he himself would be killed by an underworld figure if he did not follow through. Alarmed by her threat, Gurrieri, at the end of November, arranged to have Christopher Munroe kill Philip Fiumefreddo for $1,000. Munroe was to go to the Fiumefreddo residence on the morning of November 29 at 6:00 a.m. Defendant would let him in and then leave for work, thereby establishing her alibi. The initial attempt to carry out the plan on November 29 was aborted when Munroe somehow went to the wrong house but early in the morning on December 1 he arrived at the Fiumefreddo residence. Defendant let him in. After offering to fix breakfast for him, she told Munroe to make the house look burglarized, gave him a pillow, and instructed him to use it to kill her husband, who was still sleeping. She then left for work. Munroe suffocated Philip Fiumefreddo with the pillow as he slept.

Gurrieri, who was to pay Munroe $1,000, could give him only $20 for the job. Becoming increasingly distressed about the murder, Gurrieri went to the police and confessed. On December 4, defendant, Munroe and Gurrieri were arrested. Two months later Rich and Capriccioso were arrested.

The Negotiations and Guilty Pleas

On February 6, 1989, defendant and her father were indicted for second degree murder, second degree conspiracy and second degree solicitation. On the same day Munroe, Gurrieri and Rich were indicted for various crimes in connection with the killing. These indictments and all matters including plea negotiations were handled by the same Supreme Court Justice in Richmond County. On February 10, Gurrieri pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the second degree. Munroe pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree on February 17 and during the plea allocution identified defendant, who was present in court, as the person who let him in the house on December 1, 1988 for the purpose of killing her husband. Rich pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation in the second degree on July 18 and, in defendant's presence, stated that he had transferred the $3,200 to Gurrieri who was "supposed to find somebody to murder Joan Fiumefreddo's husband".

Plea negotiations between defendant and the District Attorney were conducted over a period of several months during which defendant Fiumefreddo was represented first by attorney Diamond and then by attorney Collins. On March 6, 1990, the day jury selection was scheduled to begin, defendant and her attorney John Collins met for over an hour with the court, her father, his attorney Joseph Lamattina and the prosecutor. Immediately following this discussion, Collins told the court:

"mr. collins: * * * I've had extensive discussions with [defendant], with the Court, with the District Attorney, co-counsel and also with her father, who is here today as a co-defendant.

"It is with respect to all the conversations we've had that my client is now prepared to plead with only one promise having been made by me. That promise is with her pleading to this top count that the Court would sentence her to 18 years to life" (emphasis added).

Lamattina stated that defendant's father was prepared to plead guilty to second degree conspiracy in exchange for a sentence promise of one to three years.

In the ensuing plea allocution, which fills 18 pages of transcript, the court carefully established that defendant and codefendant Capriccioso voluntarily and with full knowledge of their rights and of the consequences of their pleas waived their rights to a jury trial, to remain silent, to confront witnesses, and to require the People to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the following colloquy with the court, defendant admitted doing the acts which are the basis for the indictment:

"the court: Mrs. Fiumefreddo, I can't take your plea unless you admit your guilt. Are you saying to me under count one of the indictment that on Staten Island on December 1, 1988, early in the morning you opened up your house door on Penn Avenue and let somebody into that house because you had arranged and you knew that that person was going to go upstairs and kill your husband while you were at work? Is that correct? Is that what you're saying to me?

"defendant fiumefreddo: Yes, Your Honor.

"the court: And Mr. Capriccioso, are you saying to me that before December 1, 1988 you had gone to Citibank, taken out money for the express purpose of paying somebody to go to your daughter's house on Penn Avenue and kill your daughter's husband? Is that what you're saying to me?

"defendant capriccioso: Yes.

"the court: Satisfactory to the People?

"mr. koller: Your Honor, just one further question that perhaps the Court may wish to direct to Mrs. Fiumefreddo. That is the monies taken out of the bank by her father, Mr. Capriccioso, that it was Mrs. Fiumefreddo who arranged to have those monies paid to a [sic ] individual to effectuate the homicide of Mr. Fiumefreddo on the morning of December 1.

"the court: That's correct. You arranged to have your father take money out of the bank so you could arrange to have somebody come to your house to kill your husband; correct?

"defendant fiumefreddo: Yes" (emphasis added).

The court set the sentencing hearing for March 27, 1990.

Defendant's Withdrawal Motion

On March 15, nine days after the plea colloquy, defendant made a motion pro se to withdraw her guilty plea. In the accompanying affidavit she stated that "while I acknowledge that the Court advised me that I had certain rights, I nevertheless did not then, nor do I now realize the full consequences of my plea of guilty. I am not guilty of the offenses to which I pleaded guilty * * * I continue to be confused about this matter because my attorney did not explain to me the ramifications of this guilty plea and I was unjustly rushed into pleading in this manner". She further stated that she pleaded guilty "with the promise that I would be sentenced to 18 to life and codefendant which [sic ] is the father of defendant whom [sic ] is 78, that his sentence would be lighter if the defendant pleas [sic ] guilty to" second degree murder.

At the sentencing hearing on March 27, 1990, the court asked defendant why she had not brought up her confusion and feeling of coercion during the extensive questioning at the time of her guilty plea and allocution....

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