Saratoga County

New trial ordered in fatal hit-and-run case

Maria Lentini is due back in court on July 23, tentatively, according to Saratoga County DA Karen Heggen.
Maria Lentini sits beside her attorney, James Knox, after being sentenced on June 1, 2017.
Maria Lentini sits beside her attorney, James Knox, after being sentenced on June 1, 2017.

BALLSTON SPA — A Saratoga Springs woman who was sentenced to four years in prison for a fatal hit-and-run accident will get a new trial. 

The Third Department of the Court of Appeals ordered the retrial on Thursday, saying that Judge James A. Murphy should have declared a mistrial during previous proceedings. 

While the previous decision to convict Maria Lentini was based on “legally sufficient evidence,” according to a court memo, testimony from two witnesses should have been struck because the witnesses — two sheriff’s deputies — testified that Lentini requested her lawyer be present before she spoke to police.

Several cases, such as the People v. Von Werne and the People v. Wright, protect the right to be advised by counsel before speaking with police, and rule that such a request does not implicate guilt. This week’s ruling came because the deputies’ testimony could have prejudiced the jury. 

Lentini’s attorney, James Knox, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said the same judge, James A. Murphy, will be on the bench for the retrial, which is tentatively set to begin July 23. 

“It’s not us [the DA’s office] that makes the decision about the mistrial; it’s the judge,” Heggen said. 

Murphy could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The night of the crash — Dec. 6, 2015 — Lentini was driving north on an unlit, remote stretch of Route 9 in Halfmoon when her car struck and killed Patrick T. Duff, of Halfmoon.

The crash happened at about 2:30 a.m. A Stewart’s shop nearby was closed, but a store security camera captured images of what happened.

The heart of prosecutors’ case was that police weren’t notified until 3:44 a.m., when Lentini’s sister arrived at the crash scene and placed a 911 call.

“The defendant failed to call 911. The defendant failed to contact police, and when she thought no one was looking, she left the scene,” said Assistant District Attorney Katherine DeMartino, the lead prosecutor, during the initial trial.

Between the time of the crash and when the 911 call was placed, DeMartino said Lentini called her sister, friends and her boyfriend before her sister arrived and called police.

Lentini also refused a breath test after police arrived, at around 3:44 a.m., leading to questions regarding her sobriety at the time of the crash.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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