SARATOGA COUNTY — A Saratoga Springs woman who pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal 2015 hit-and-run crash in Halfmoon was sentenced Tuesday to one year in jail, bringing an end to what had been a lengthy criminal case.
Maria Lentini, 33, was sentenced by Saratoga County Court Judge James A. Murphy III. After four years of back and forth legal developments in the case, Lentini pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in July.
Lentini was driving north on a remote and unlit section of Route 9 in Halfmoon in the early morning hours of Dec. 6, 2015, when she struck and killed Patrick Duff of Halfmoon, who was wearing dark clothing and walking in her lane, according to police accounts of the crash.
Lentini was charged in Duff's death because the incident was not reported to police for more than an hour, and during part of that time, she allegedly left the scene with her sister, according to authorities.
She called several other people before her sister finally called police, according to the charges against her.
Initially, Lentini was convicted in a County Court jury trial in November 2016 of felony leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and was subsequently sentenced to up to four years in state prison. In July 2018, however, a mid-level state appeals court vacated her conviction and ordered a new trial.
The appeals court found that Murphy, who presided over the first trial, should have declared a mistrial because two witnesses — one a sheriff's deputy — testified that on the night of the crash, Lentini requested that a lawyer be present before she spoke to police. Hearing that testimony could have prejudiced jurors, the court found.
Lentini took the plea deal this past summer.
At sentencing Tuesday, Lentini apologized through tears for her actions.
Noting that the morning court appearance was the first time she had been able to speak directly to Murphy to express her regret, Lentini said that there hasn’t been a day that's gone by since the crash that hasn't been haunted by the incident.
“Bear with me,” Lentini said while struggling to make her statement before the court. “I just want you to know that the hurt and sorrow I feel because of this accident is something I live with every day.”
Lentini further apologized to Duff’s family and her own family, adding that no words would be able to undo what happened, but also continued to speak after she had concluded her official statement, noting that while she was taking responsibility for her actions, she acted in the way she felt was right after the incident, which meant calling people she “trusted,” not necessarily the people she should have called, prior to calling the police.
Her state of mind immediately after the incident, she said, was chaotic, but her priority the entire time was to fix what had happened.
“I’m not a bad person," she said. "It was always about getting help. I’m not a monster.”
Murphy thanked Lentini for what he called “sincere remorse,” but ended the conversation before Lentini could make further comments.
“I don’t think anyone is saying you’re a monster,” Murphy said before handing down her sentence.
Lee Kindlon, who was appointed by Murphy to serve as a special prosecutor in the case after he disqualified District Attorney Karen A. Heggen's office from handling Lentini's case, said that representatives from the Duff family were not in court Tuesday, but were aware of the outcome of the case and not necessarily satisfied with it.
“I think one of the things about compromise is that not exactly everybody was happy with the outcome, but it was an outcome, there was a guilty plea. We all stood in court and I think heard her remorse, and I think that that was a very important part of closure for this case,” Kindlon said.
Lentini’s family did not comment on the case after the sentencing.