Published April 20. 2012 2:00PM Updated April 21. 2012 1:36AM
A murder trial eight years in the making ended Friday when Chad M. Schaffer accepted a plea offer from the state that ensures the 34-year-old will be out of prison by the time he's 50.
Schaffer, charged with fatally beating physicist Eugene Mallove in the driveway of Mallove's childhood home in Norwich on May 14, 2004, pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of first-degree manslaughter and accessory to third-degree robbery.
He will be sentenced June 27 to 16 years in prison. The full sentence is 25 years in prison, suspended after 16 years, served followed by five years probation.
No one seemed happy with the plea deal, including Schaffer, who said he was pleading guilty to a crime "that I believe I did not commit" so that he would not spend the rest of his life in prison.
But no one was more upset than the victim's son, Ethan Mallove, a software engineer from Massachusetts who had listened to testimony over the past two weeks that seemed to indicate the prosecution had a strong case against Schaffer.
"It's not justice," he said. "They threw in the towel too early. A guilty plea just works for them."
Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci, who tried the case with his colleague, Thomas DeLillo, said he understood Ethan Mallove's reaction. However, Narducci said, there were issues with the credibility of the one witness who placed the defendant at the crime scene — Schaffer's girlfriend, Candace Foster — and with the timeline of events on the night of the murder.
Narducci noted there was no forensic evidence that tied Schaffer to the crime. The one piece of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene was a key chain that was found on the ground at the Mallove home. The defense was expected to claim that Schaffer, who stored a car at the Mallove home, had left the keys there at some other time.
"The state has weighed all of the factors and evidence, not only what has already come in but what we anticipated coming, and the state believes this is a proper and fair disposition," Narducci said.
Defense attorney Bruce B. McIntyre had brought Foster, the only witness who placed Schaffer at the crime scene, to tears during an intense cross-examination Thursday and had forced her to admit that she had lied to police as many as 30 times during their investigation. McIntyre also emphasized Foster's learning disabilities, her marijuana habit and her memory problems and was prepared to continue the attack on her credibility during the defense portion of the trial.
Schaffer, who worked as a pizza cook, was free for six years following Mallove's death. At the trial, the state had to explain to the jury why police had initially charged two other men with the homicide.
The police had originally charged Gary McAvoy and Joseph Reilly, who were picked up in New Britain wearing bloody clothing in a car stolen from this area. They admitted they had committed some burglaries that weekend while on a crack binge but denied killing Mallove.
The state stopped prosecuting them in 2008 when it was discovered that a single hair, the last piece of forensic evidence that appeared to tie them to the crime, had been mislabeled and did not come from the Mallove crime scene.
Schaffer, Foster and Schaffer's cousin, Mozzelle Brown, were arrested in 2010 after Foster and two other key witnesses entered into the state's witness protection program and cooperated with the state.
Schaffer's parents evicted
As the trial got under way last week, the state showed the jury graphic crime scene photos of Mallove lying in a pool of blood at 119 Salem Turnpike. They called on forensic examiners who testified that none of the blood, hair, fingerprints and other evidence collected during the investigation matched the initial suspects or Schaffer, Foster and Brown.
Earlier this week, Foster, who is the mother of Schaffer's two children, testified that she returned to the crime scene with Schaffer and Brown "to make it look like a robbery." The two men had gone to the Mallove home, from which Schaffer's parents had been evicted a month earlier, to confront "the landlord" after Schaffer's mother called to say someone was at the home throwing out their possessions. One witness testified that Brown also went to the home because he needed to retrieve crack cocaine that he had stored at the Mallove property.
Foster said that Mallove was alive and lying face down in the driveway when they arrived. She said Schaffer and Brown flipped him over and Mallove said, "Help me." She said she struck Mallove with a pipe and kicked him after Schaffer smacked her in the face and forced her to take part so that she wouldn't tell on him.
Foster, who remains incarcerated while her murder case is pending, testified for the state with the hope of getting leniency.
Brown is serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison on weapons and drug-dealing convictions and has not been served with an arrest warrant for the Mallove murder.
At the trial, the jury also heard from Jill Sebastian and Keishon Dullivan, two former housemates of Schaffer and Foster, who implicated Schaffer. They told of Schaffer and Foster's efforts to conceal evidence of the crime, including a bloody basketball jersey and pajama pants that Schaffer wore that day, the victim's shoes and a camera that was stolen at the crime scene. They said Schaffer had smirked when Brown bragged about the crime and re-enacted it with air punches and kicks a few days later.
Ethan Mallove had watched the trial with his wife, Cheryl, his sister's sister-in-law — New Hampshire attorney Rebecca L. Woodard — and Woodard's parents. Woodard, speaking on behalf of Ethan Mallove, attempted to convince Judge Patrick J. Clifford not to accept the plea deal, saying the 16-year prison sentence "doesn't come close to righting this wrong."
"He was an amazing person," she said of Eugene Mallove. "He deserves better than this. The community deserves better than this. We ask that you reject this plea and let the jury decide."
Clifford presided over the pleading because the judge who sat at the trial, Barbara B. Jongbloed, was not allowed under the law to take the plea. Clifford said he assumed the state would go forward if it was confident of a conviction. After a lengthy canvas during which Schaffer expressed hesitancy about the deal but admitted it was the "safest" thing for him, the judge accepted the plea.
The trial took place in Superior Court in Norwich, but Clifford said the sentencing would be held in his New London courtroom.