A brazen con artist received the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison yesterday for the 2006 murder of her boyfriend, after adding another bizarre chapter to a life of crime with a court appearance that included a last-ditch attempt to take back her guilty plea.
Cynthia J. McKay, a 52-year-old mother of six, said a prison "epiphany" had convinced her to try to fight the charges - even though her son's release from jail was tied to her following through with her plea. When the judge turned down the request for a trial, McKay then said that she had stabbed her boyfriend during a fight.
But only, she insisted, after he had accidentally stabbed himself.
McKay, a prosecutor told the judge, is "without rival, the most devious defendant this court will come across" and "devoid of redeeming qualities."
Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Pamela L. North, in remarks that were a mix of awe and disgust, said McKay had an "amazing history of dishonesty that seems unparalleled" and called her a bad parent who had "poisoned" the two sons who were implicated in the crime.
"Your life has been like a tornado - wherever it's touching down, it's leaving this mass destruction in its path," North said.
Against the advice of her attorneys, McKay asked at the beginning of the hearing to withdraw her plea to second-degree murder and felony theft charges, citing specific legal codes and saying she had not participated in her defense or received key documents.
"I have always wanted a trial," she said. "I am not guilty of murder."
Cindy McKay, a former Prince George's County police cadet, was accused of killing Anthony Fertitta in February 2006 in their Millersville home and setting his body on fire, a crime for which she and her two sons were charged with first-degree murder. In April, McKay entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to win a conviction.
Prosecutor Kathleen Rogers said Fertitta, a 50-year-old who liked to show off his cash, was an easy mark for McKay. "She gained his trust, and more importantly for her, she gained his Social Security number."
Rogers said McKay secretly stole thousands from Fertitta, buying cars and leather furniture while carrying out a "mind-bogglingly complex" theft scheme at her job, a portable toilet company in Glen Burnie that had hired her as an office manager. McKay went to work the day after his death and acted as if nothing had happened.
She was arrested a few days later, after Fertitta's blood was found under a bleach-soaked carpet in the house, and surveillance footage showed McKay purchasing gasoline that would be used to burn his body in the early-morning darkness.
A glum-faced McKay sat with her chin resting on her hand as one of her attorneys, Shane McMahon, offered a new account of the crime in hopes of mitigating her sentence. People from McKay's past - two former fellow inmates, a stepdaughter, a former landlord and a prison counselor - sat riveted in the courtroom gallery as the defense team offered up the legal equivalent of a "Hail Mary" pass in football.
"It was like theater," said one of the former inmates.
She told North that she and Fertitta had connected as two single 50-year-olds who had common interests: Baltimore Ravens football games, NASCAR, movies. She claimed that Fertitta had allowed her to use his credit cards, though she said she abused that trust.
A fight erupted on Feb. 21 after Fertitta learned that McKay would be moving into a new home without him, she said. Fertitta, who has been described as a mild-mannered and kind-hearted man who would hug strangers, allegedly slammed her against a mirror, which shattered. She grabbed a shard and stabbed him in the leg.
High on Oxycontin, she said, he tripped over her Italian greyhound, Vinnie, and stabbed himself. Out of fear, she then stabbed him as well.
"She wanted to demonstrate that, in fact, his knife was first, hers came second, and that his knife would've killed him anyway," McMahon said.
McMahon said the "crazy" explanation would make sense because McKay's criminal history did not suggest violence and because she was too smart to botch the cover-up so badly.
"It's clear from the cover-up afterward that she hadn't been planning this," he said.
"Naturally, I regret very deeply that Tony died," she said, sniffling but never looking at Fertitta's sister, who was seated in the courtroom. "... There's nothing I could do to prevent him from dying."
Rogers said after the hearing that McKay's explanation was nothing more than the work of a clever defendant who had pieced together key parts of the voluminous police report.