Man relents, admitting he tried to have wife killed

Defendant denied guilt before taking plea deal

April 24, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

After a morning spent proclaiming his innocence, Ermelindo M. Piccinini admitted in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday that he tried to have his wife killed, ending a case complicated by his apparent indecisiveness.

Piccinini pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder yesterday afternoon, hours after an identical plea agreement fell through when he claimed that he was innocent and had been set up by police and prosecutors.

"The thing was a setup from the get-go," Piccinini told Judge Lawrence R. Daniels during a hearing yesterday morning at which Piccinini was to be sentenced as part of a tentative plea agreement reached April 3.

Daniels gave Piccinini "to the count of three" to admit his guilt or be tried on the charges.

The judge then counted to three before rejecting the plea. He said Piccinini's claim of innocence breached the agreement, which tied his guilty plea to the terms of his divorce.

But Assistant State's Attorney Mickey Norman later told Piccinini's attorneys in Daniels' chambers that he would reconsider the binding plea agreement if Piccinini would admit his guilt.

Piccinini agreed and Daniels scheduled a second hearing for yesterday afternoon.

"If I hear a word out of him about being innocent, we're trying this case," Norman told Piccinini's attorneys as they left Daniels' courtroom to meet with Piccinini before the second hearing.

At the afternoon session, Piccinini - who faced a possible life sentence if convicted - had apparently learned his lesson.

"It was a bad mistake," said Piccinini, a 38-year-old father of four who operated a Perry Hall computer store.

Piccinini, who at times acted as if he was confused by the proceedings, told Daniels that he is seeing a therapist in the Baltimore County Detention Center.

But he admitted that he understood the proceedings and was found mentally competent to stand trial, elements that are required for a defendant to be tried or enter a guilty plea.

David Greenbaum, Piccinini's criminal attorney, said that his client might have been confused by parts of the proceeding because his arrest was his first brush with the law.

"I think he was genuinely confused about a few of things that were going on," Greenbaum said.

As part of the agreement, Piccinini agreed to surrender his U.S. citizenship, turn over his house in Baldwin and the bulk of his $185,000 in savings to his wife. Piccinini will also serve a five-year prison sentence.

During the morning session, he initially balked at accepting the divorce settlement because it required him to turn over his house to his wife instead of his children.

Stephen Kleeman, Piccinini's divorce attorney, said that Piccinini agreed to admit his guilt after reconsidering yesterday because he wanted to do the right thing for his children.

Piccinini was charged after he told a customer at his Perry Hall electronics store that he was going through a messy divorce and wanted his wife killed.

He tried to hire an undercover state trooper, who was posing as a hit man, in four audiotaped conversations between June 13 and June 19, Norman said.

Piccinini was arrested after he gave the trooper a $1,000 down payment, showed him a 9 mm handgun and threatened to come after him if he left the job undone, Norman said.

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