The man who admitted killing former nun Mary Greco is now saying he didn’t kill her and is asking to take back his guilty plea.
Michael Briggs, 38, appeared in Schenectady County Court for a pre-sentencing hearing Tuesday and proclaimed his innocence, just two months after he admitted in court to killing the 82-year-old Greco.
The declaration means his sentencing, which had been set for Friday, is off, at least for now.
Whether Briggs will actually be allowed to withdraw his plea is far from certain, however; defendants must prove to a judge they didn’t knowingly or voluntarily plead guilty, generally a difficult task. Judges take pains to make it clear to defendants on the record what is happening and the implications of their guilty plea.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago took the standard route of agreeing to appoint Briggs a new attorney for the limited task of speaking with him about trying to formally take back his plea. If Briggs still wants to go forward after that, that attorney would file a formal motion that Drago would rule on.
If she rules in Briggs’ favor, the case would be back on course for trial. If she rules against him, the case would proceed to sentencing. Judges, however, rarely grant such motions.
Under the terms of Briggs’ plea, he would have the possibility of one day being released from prison; if convicted, however, he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility.
Briggs pleaded guilty in March to one count each of second-degree murder and attempted burglary. In exchange, he was to be sentenced to a total of 30 years to life in prison. The plea came as his trial was scheduled to begin a week later.
He admitted to killing Greco in late December 2012 in her Stanford Street apartment. Her body was discovered Jan. 1, 2013.
Briggs said Tuesday he took the plea because his attorney, Michael Mansion, was pushing for it, telling him he was going to lose at trial. With that, Briggs said he believed he would have no one representing him at trial.
“I did not kill this woman,” Briggs said. “I am not responsible for her murder. I spoke to Mr. Mansion about that.”
For his part, Mansion told Drago part of his job as a defense attorney is to give his client a fair assessment of the case, which is what he said he did.
“Sometimes the truth hurts,” Mansion told Drago. “I told Mr. Briggs honestly how I thought the case was going to go and what the results would be. Whether or not he chose to accept or reject the plea deal was solely his decision entirely.”
After Briggs’ plea, 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 Greco’s home at 1402 Stanford St. with a shovel just before authorities believe she was killed.
The case was expected to include the presence of Briggs’ DNA in Greco’s house, including on a blanket in which her body was wrapped. His DNA was also discovered in her car, which was found parked two blocks from his apartment. Also inside was a cellphone linked to him, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said previously.
Carney credited police after the plea with “excellent” work on the case.
Carney told Drago on Tuesday the plea was the result of lengthy talks between the two sides and not a hasty decision on Briggs’ part.
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, 2012, 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.
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.