Michael Briggs could spend the rest of his life in state prison for the December 2012 killing of an 82-year-old former nun.
Briggs, 38, pleaded guilty in Schenectady County Court on Monday to one count of second-degree murder and an attempted burglary count. He faces a total sentence of 30 years to life in state prison at his June sentencing.
The plea came as a trial was scheduled to begin next week. Attorneys said there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence of his guilt.
Briggs’ DNA and fingerprints were found at multiple points inside the victim’s apartment. There was also other evidence, including video from the county’s street surveillance cameras of a man believed to be Briggs walking in the direction of Mary Greco’s 1402 Stanford St. home with a shovel just before authorities believe she was killed.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney afterward credited the Schenectady Police Department with building a case strong enough to result in Monday’s guilty plea.
“It was a case with excellent police work,” he said. “The Schenectady police deserve a lot of credit for this.”
Carney prosecuted the case himself with another prosecutor in his office, John Healy.
Had the case gone to trial and Briggs been convicted, he could have faced as much as life in prison without chance of parole. Carney said prosecutors weighed that, along with the uncertainty of a trial and appeals, against a sentence that essentially could still put Briggs away for life.
Briggs’ defense attorney, Michael Mansion, said that was among the calculations in taking the plea deal — that Briggs would have the chance to some day get out.
The alternative was no chance. “It became apparent that the evidence was tremendously against us and, at some point in time, you have to consider cutting your losses and hopefully have a chance of someday seeing daylight,” Mansion said.
Mansion stood with Briggs on Monday afternoon as he calmly pleaded guilty to both charges.
Asked by Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago if, between Dec. 28 and Dec. 31, 2012, he caused the death of Greco, Briggs responded “yes.”
Greco’s body was discovered in her home Jan. 1, 2013.
To the follow-up question, did he cause her death by strangulation, Briggs again responded “yes.”
Briggs will be nearly 70 before he is first considered for parole. Once in front of a parole board, members of the body will have to weigh the heinousness of his crime — the killing of a defenseless, 82-year-old former nun — as well as Briggs’ criminal history, which includes an attack on defenseless victims on Long Island.
At the time of the Greco killing, Briggs had already fled from parole in the Long Island case, Carney noted.
“I can’t believe that a parole board, even 30 years from now, will look at him and say, ‘That’s somebody we can risk letting out,’ ” he said.
Greco has been described by neighbors as a kind and quiet woman who was deeply spiritual. She was born and raised in Schenectady, entered the missionary community in 1956 with the Daughters of Mary, Health of the Sick, and stayed with them until the community disbanded in 1972. She then worked for the state until retiring in 1996.
She regularly attended services at St. Luke’s Roman Catholic Church on State Street. She also showed her faith through the sponsorship of children and adults in the Central American country of Guatemala and made trips there to support that work.
Carney said he spoke with one of Greco’s nephews, an attorney in California, after Monday’s plea. He said the nephew was grateful for everyone’s work on the case. Statements from family members are expected at sentencing.
Briggs is believed to have first come in contact with Greco shortly before she died because of a pair of snowstorms. After the first, on Dec. 27, Briggs went around Greco’s neighborhood offering to shovel snow, authorities said. Greco is not believed to have known Briggs, but she accepted his offer and paid him for his work.
A second storm hit the region Dec. 29. Briggs returned after that storm and authorities believe Greco accepted his second offer of help.
Through phone records, authorities believe Briggs killed Greco on the morning of Dec. 30, 2012, Carney said.
The case was expected to include the presence of Briggs’ DNA at multiple points in Greco’s house, including on a blanket in which her body was wrapped. His DNA was also found in her car, which was found parked two blocks from his apartment. Also inside was a cellphone linked to him, Carney said.
Carney credited Sgt. Daryl Mallard, the first responding officer, with making crucial observations and decisions at the outset of the investigation.
He spotted Greco’s toilet seat up, something that would be unusual in the apartment of an 82-year-old woman. He also made other decisions that preserved evidence, Carney said.
Carney credited evidence technicians with finding and preserving Briggs’ fingerprints and DNA inside the apartment. Carney said Briggs denied ever being in the apartment and said he didn’t know anything about it when questioned later by city police Detective Paul Steele, but police already had identified the prints as his.
Finding Briggs also took some effort, Carney said, but the cellphone in Greco’s car provided a key lead. The phone was linked to a domestic violence 911 call made months earlier. The report on that call by Officer Mark Weeks made note of a man named Michael and an address on Eastern Avenue.
After the murder, Weeks was able to identify that man as Briggs. Within days of the discovery of Greco’s body, police took Briggs into custody at that same location on Eastern Avenue.