LOCKPORT – Despite a vigorous argument from his attorney that Timothy C. DePetris had suffered mental problems from months in solitary confinement, Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas ruled today that his Jan. 29 guilty plea to attempted murder will stand.
Farkas ordered that DePetris, 45, of Niagara Falls, will be sentenced June 30. He faces up to 25 years in prison.
Court-appointed defense attorney George V.C. Muscato, who was handed the case after the attorney who worked out the plea deal refused to try to cancel it, argued that DePetris had tried to commit suicide and was diagnosed with a mental illness in the days leading up to the plea. “This man was not in any condition, mentally or physically, to take a plea Jan. 29,” Muscato said.
Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann countered that DePetris was actually improving between the reported Jan. 7 hanging attempt and the plea date.
Hoffmann summarized her reading of the jail records by saying, “He appears to get more and more stable and more and more normal as you get closer to the end of January.”
DePetris pleaded guilty to shooting his brother-in-law, Sandro Viola, at the latter’s office March 26. The plea deal called for that admission in exchange for the prosecution dropping a second indictment that accused DePetris of using a phone at the County Jail to try to hire a hitman to kill Viola and a witness in the case who turned state’s evidence.
That incident was the reason Farkas ordered DePetris into isolation in the jail last June. “It needed to be done,” Farkas said.
Muscato said the record shows that on Jan. 29, DePetris was crying and answered some questions incorrectly, based on his reading of the medical records. DePetris said he had not been diagnosed with any mental illness, wasn’t sure if he’d ever been in a drug rehabilitation (he had been), and claimed he was in good mental and physical health.
Hoffmann said a mental health professional saw DePetris in jail twice Jan. 29, both before and after the plea, and reported no problems. “There’s nothing I see that indicates other than that he was going through a logical thought process on the day he took the plea,” the prosecutor said.
“Tim was in an emotionally deteriorating state,” Muscato contended. He said the jail staff is now giving DePetris lithium.
“They’ve medicated him to the point where he’s manageable,” Muscato said.
Farkas said, “What I saw on the day of the plea was a very upset individual.” Muscato acknowledged that’s not unusual for people pleading guilty to serious crimes.
The judge said DePetris’ former attorney, E. Earl Key, is “a tenacious bulldog” who is “willing to take cases to trial, difficult cases.” That reputation strengthened her belief that the plea deal was valid.