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Fifteen years after Renee Pellegrino was strangled and laid out naked in a Waterford cul-de-sac, a local man with a long history of violence against women has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for her murder.
Dickie E. Anderson Jr., 42, and his family continued to maintain his innocence as Judge Arthur C. Hadden handed down the maximum sentence for murder Monday in New London Superior Court. In his remarks, Hadden evoked the suffering of the victim, noting she had been strangled both manually and with a ligature and that during Anderson’s trial this spring, a doctor had testified it would have taken her some time to die.
“That indicates to me not just death by strangulation, but virtual torture,” Hadden said.
Hadden said the suffering of the victim’s family will last a lifetime.
“My job today is to see to it that you are separated from society as long as possible,” he said.
Pellegrino was 41 years old and 17 weeks pregnant when she was killed on June 25, 1997. 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, Jean Russell.
Russell said she and her family would go through life with the sadness and sorrow of losing not only Pellegrino but also her unborn son. Pellegrino’s sister, Dianne Fabricant, wept as she addressed some of her remarks directly to Anderson, telling him that she will pray for him.
“God loves me,” she said. “He loves you equally, so I can’t sit in judgment.”
Anderson’s longtime companion, Toni Wilson, was at the sentencing with the couple’s two sons. Anderson told the boys he loves them and to always behave.
Wilson, who has ended her relationship with Anderson, testified at his trial that he started crying one night and admitted killing a woman with whom he had “hooked up.” Wilson said Anderson told her the woman demanded money after they had sex, and that he didn’t want to pay her and killed her after they fought.
Police officers who had worked the case for years, finally obtaining an arrest warrant charging Anderson with murder in 2010, were in the audience along with two of the jurors who had found him guilty.
Anderson had been tried simultanously for the strangling death of Michelle Comeau in 1998, but the jury had been unable to reach a verdict in the Comeau case. The panel was split 11-1 in favor of conviction in the Comeau case, according to juror Juanita Zamora. She said she came to the sentencing for closure.
“He’s the only one who knows what happened, but for me it’s still a guilty verdict,” she said. “There’s a handful of evidence there.”
The jury had heard only bits and pieces about Anderson’s prior criminal history, which involved convictions for strangling and assaulting women, but prosecutor David Smith said it seemed fair to bring up Anderson’s past at sentencing. He said Anderson appears to be incapable of not being a threat to society.
“In general, the defendant has a very violent past, some of it directed toward women,” Smith said.
Anderson’s mother, Eileen Fletcher, declined to comment. She has maintained that her son is innocent and that he did not receive a fair trial because the two murder cases were consolidated. Anderson’s attorneys, Christopher Duby and John Walkley, indicated they plan to appeal his conviction.