By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Niagara Country prosecutors warned Timothy Depetris he'd have just one chance at a plea offer.
His defense attorney told them his client was "not interested."
But on Tuesday, just two weeks before jury selection was scheduled to start on the first of his two upcoming trials, Depetris decided to take the deal.
Sometimes sobbing softly, other times struggling to fight back tears, Depetris, 44, the son of the founder of Electrodyn Choke Corp., pleaded guilty to seven charges connected to the shooting of his brother-in-law in what investigators said was a "business dispute." Depetris entered his plea to one count of second-degree attempted murder, one count of first-degree assault, three counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, one count of first-degree criminal use of a firearm and one count of second-degree criminal trespass.
In return for the guilty plea, prosecutors said they would move to dismiss all the charges in a second indictment that Depetris faced. That case involved allegations that he tried to hire a hitman to kill his brother-in law, and a witness to his first crime, while he was being held in the Niagara County Jail.
Depetris faced 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 that case.
The deal was slightly better than the prosecutor's original plea offer made in October. That offer would have required Depetris to plead guilty to a single count of attempted first-degree murder. First Assistant District Attorney Doreen Hoffmann indicated then that Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas had agreed to cap Depetris' sentence at 20 years to life, the minimum possible sentence for attempted first-degree murder.
Farkas told Depetris on Tuesday he would face a little less time behind bars.
"Based on my thorough review of the case and conversations with the lawyers in this case, the court is committing to a range of 15 to 25 years (in prison)," Farkas said.
As Depetris entered his pleas, he seemed to struggle at times to either understand the judge or admit to his actions.
When Farkas asked him if he "intended to to cause the death" of his brother-in-law, Depetris shook his head and replied, "No."
"We don't have a plea," Farkas said.
After a moment of conversation with his client, defense attorney Earl Key told Farkas, "I explained the law to him and what it requires (him to admit)."
When Farkas repeated her question, Depetris answered, "Yes."
Depetris' brother-in-law was in the courtroom as took the plea. As he left court, the victim said, "he got what he deserved."
The man also denied having any business dealings with Depetris before he was shot.
"There was no business deal," he said.
Hoffmann had warned Depetris that if he went to trial on the shooting of his brother-in-law, and was 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.
Depetris was accused of shooting his brother-in-law in the doorway of the victim’s new business in the 2300 block of Hyde Park Boulevard on March 26. 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 his second case, in addition to looking for a hitman 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.
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.
He had originally faced six additional charges, tied to the New York SAFE Act, but those were dismissed by Farkas. 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.
Farkas determined the SAFE Act restrictions were not in place at the time of Depetris' arrest.