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Fifteen years after Renee Pellegrino's body was laid out naked in a Waterford cul-de-sac, a New London jury has convicted a local man of her murder.
On the seventh day of deliberations, the 12-member panel found Dickie E. Anderson Jr., 42, guilty of fatally strangling Pellegrino on June 25, 1997. Anderson was also on trial for killing Michelle Comeau on May 1, 1998, but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision in that case, and Judge Arthur C. Hadden declared a mistrial.
Anderson is a father of three from New London who was on probation and working in a nursing home at the time of his arrest. During interviews with police, he admitted he was a "trick artist" who liked to trade crack cocaine for sex with prostitutes, but he denied killing the two women.
He will be sentenced June 1 to up to 60 years in prison.
The two murder cases had long grown cold when police were notified in 2008 that a DNA sample taken from Anderson when he was convicted in an unrelated strangulation case matched DNA from a vaginal swab taken from Pellegrino. Detectives linked the Pellegrino and Comeau cases after learning Anderson had been seen with both women shortly before they were killed.
Pellegrino's mother, Jean Russell of Quaker Hill, said she had mixed feelings because she has come to know and like Anderson's mother, Eileen Fletcher, while they watched the trial in Superior Court.
"Me and Eileen are mothers, and we certainly didn't want this to happen to our children, but life happens and you have to deal with the fallout," Russell said Wednesday before the verdict.
Pellegrino was 41 years old and 17 weeks pregnant when she was killed. She was a law school graduate and gifted musician who had turned to crack cocaine and prostitution after several family tragedies, according to her mother.
No matter the outcome of the case, "Renee is still lost," Russell said. But as she listened to the evidence, she had come to believe that Anderson had probably killed her daughter.
"Because he lied so much and tried to get out of it so much and confessed to his (longtime girlfriend) that he killed somebody," she said.
Retired Waterford Police Lt. Donald J. McCarthy and Detective Sgt. Joseph DePasquale, who worked the case from the beginning, were on their way to see Russell Wednesday afternoon. They said they would comment later.
Comeau's survivors did not attend the trial. A 29-year-old woman with mental health issues, she was addicted to crack cocaine and was working as a prostitute at the time of her death, according to testimony at the trial.
Prosecutor Stephen M. Carney, who tried the case with prosecutor David J. Smith, said Anderson's conviction was a tremendous victory for the Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit, which resumed the investigation in 2008 and in 2010 obtained arrest warrants charging Anderson with the murders.
In his office after the verdict, Carney received a congratulatory phone call from Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane, who was the New London state's attorney when Pellegrino was killed.
"I hope that Mrs. Russell has some sort of sense of closure," Carney said, adding that he hoped the trial and verdict had given her some idea of what had happened to her daughter.
Regarding the Comeau case, Carney said the attorneys would decide after Anderson's sentencing how that case could be resolved.
The two murder cases were joined for trial based on their similarities. Both women were prostitutes who smoked crack cocaine. Both bodies were found naked and laid out in similar poses on wooded stretches of roadway. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsies testified that both had been strangled manually and with a ligature, and noted that, in his experience, that was extremely rare.
Anderson looked glum as the jury announced the verdict. His sister, Tanya Anderson, who had sat behind her brother during the entire trial and had been called to testify, left the courthouse weeping. His mother was not in court for the verdict and could not immediately be reached to comment.
Anderson's attorneys, John T. Walkley and Christopher Duby, declined to comment on the verdict but are expected to be heard at Anderson's sentencing.
The jurors left the courthouse as a group and declined to comment.