By Rick Pfeiffer
LOCKPORT — Niagara Country prosecutors have offered a deal to a Falls businessman who tried, and failed, to kill his brother-in-law and then tried to hire a hitman to kill his relative and a witness to the first crime.
First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann told County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas that "a plea offer has been extended" to Timothy Depetris.
Depetris has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree attempted murder, two counts of second-degree attempted murder, two counts of conspiracy and two counts of criminal solicitation in connection with his attempt to hire a hitman, while he was in the Niagara County jail, to kill his brother-in-law and a witness in the earlier shooting of his relative.
He has been jailed, without bail, since his arraignment on May 15 on charges of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree criminal use of a firearm, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, six counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree criminal trespass in connection with the actual shooting of his brother-in-law in the early morning hours of March 26.
Farkas has dismissed six of those charges that were tied to the New York SAFE Act. All the charges were weapons related and involved the possession of a “large capacity ammunition feeding device” also known as a bullet clip or ammunition magazine.
The definitions of illegal magazines were suspended by an action of the state Legislature on March 29. Depetris was arrested with a large stash of weapons, ammunition and magazines on March 30.
The plea offer from prosecutors would require Depetris to plead guilty to a single count of attempted first-degree murder. Hoffmann also indicated that Farkas had agreed to cap Depetris' sentence at 20 years to life, the minimum possible sentence for attempted murder.
Hoffmann warned that if Depetris goes to trial on the shooting of his brother-in-law, and is convicted, she would not make another plea offer and any sentence from his first case would run consecutive to a possible prison term if he were convicted in the hitman case.
Defense attorney Earl Key had a quick response to the offer.
"Not interested," he told Farkas.
When the judge asked Depetris, directly, if that was his positon on the plea offer he replied, "Yes, your honor."
Lawyers in the case have been barred from speaking about it to reporters, outside the courtroom. Key asked Farkas to lift the gag order because reporters were in court when the plea offer was made.
"(Reporting of the plea offer) will lead to a negative impression of my client," Key told the judge. "It is blatantly prejudicial to my client's right to a fair trial."
Farkas said, "The gag order remains in effect."
The judge also rejected a defense request that Depetris not be held in "isolation" at the Niagara County jail. Farkas directed that Depetris to placed in isolation after the charges that he tried to hire a hitman from the jail were revealed.
Farkas did deal prosecutors one setback when she ruled that they can not combine Depetris' two current cases into a single trial.
"The crimes are similar in nature and they involve a number of the same witnesses," Hoffmann argued to the judge. "It was an on-going criminal transaction. The continuing transaction here is the continued attempt to murder (Depetris' brother-in-law)."
But Key told Faraks that his client wants to testify on his own behalf in the hitman trial and not testify in the first case.
"If you consolidate the cases, you are forcing him not to testify," Key said.
Depetris, the son of the founder of Electrodyn Choke Corp., is accused of shooting his brother-in-law in the doorway of the victim’s new business in the 2300 block of Hyde Park Boulevard. The 56-year-old victim, who had gone to the door for a pizza delivery, was shot in the upper chest, near his shoulder.
In addition to looking for a hit man to kill his brother-in-law, Depetris reportedly was also seeking to kill a pizza deliveryman who was with him at the time of the shooting and has since cooperated with police and prosecutors. Investigators have said the pizza deliveryman lured the victim to the doorway.
Hoffmann previously said that Depetris “stalked” the victim at his home, before shooting him and repeatedly firing at him inside his business.
“All because of a business deal (Depetris) felt went badly,” Hoffmann said.
The victim reportedly pointed investigators to Depetris as a suspect almost immediately after the shooting. A few days later, police stopped Depetris as he was driving through the city and found what one investigator called an “arsenal” inside his car.
Detectives said Depetris had a loaded semi-automatic 9-mm Baretta handgun in a holster around his neck and under his shirt at the time he was stopped. Police also recovered a fully automatic rifle and multiple, loaded ammunition clips in the back seat of the car.