Gingerella's accused killer to go to trial in 2018

Dante Hughes was arraigned last year in New London Superior Court on one count of murder and one count of domestic violence. Hughes is accused of shooting Joey Gingerella outside of Ryan's Pub about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 11, when Gingerella left the bar to try to stop Hughes from assaulting a woman in the parking lot, according to witnesses. rejected an offer from the state Monday to plead guilty in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence. (NBC Connecticut/Pool)
Dante Hughes was arraigned last year in New London Superior Court on one count of murder and one count of domestic violence. Hughes is accused of shooting Joey Gingerella outside of Ryan's Pub about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 11, when Gingerella left the bar to try to stop Hughes from assaulting a woman in the parking lot, according to witnesses. rejected an offer from the state Monday to plead guilty in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence. (NBC Connecticut/Pool)

Dante A. Hughes, accused of fatally shooting Joey Gingerella in the parking lot of Ryan's Pub in Groton on Dec. 11, 2016, rejected an offer from the state Monday to plead guilty in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence.

The 31-year-old Hughes is expected to go on trial for murder in 2018 and faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted. Arrested two days after the shooting, as police said he attempted to flee to Canada, Hughes is being held in lieu of $550,000 bond at the Northern Correctional Institution.

Dressed in a neon orange prison jumpsuit, Hughes stood before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein Monday morning for his "accept or reject" date. He looked at family members in the gallery, then turned and whispered with his attorney Walter D. Hussey before confirming that he wants a trial, not a plea deal. 

Hughes answered, "Yes, ma'am," several times as the judge asked a series of questions to ensure he understands that he can be sentenced to 60 years, which is considered a life sentence in Connecticut, if convicted by a jury. The judge told him that if convicted, he couldn't say his lawyer failed to warn him of the consequences of rejecting a plea offer.

According to Groton Town Police, Hughes was battering his girlfriend, Latoya S. Knight, in the bar's parking lot when Gingerella and others stepped in and attempted to stop the beating. Witnesses said Hughes shot Gingerella three times then walked away in the direction of Fort Hill Road. Knight is accused of intentionally misidentifying the shooter to police and has a case pending in the same court. She is expected to be called as a witness at the trial.

Gingerella's family and a large group of supporters have attended all of Hughes' court dates. They filled half the courtroom Monday, many of them wearing "Justice for Joey" T-shirts.

Baseball was a passion for Gingerella, who had been an all-star pitcher at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School, and his survivors have honored his memory by renaming his recreational softball team in his honor and holding a "Light it Up Joey" fundraiser to install lights at Calvin Burrow Little Field in Groton.

Over the weekend, Community Speaks Out, a nonprofit organization that his parents and others created to help people struggling with opioid addiction, held its second annual Christopher Johns Memorial Sober Softball Tournament. Gingerella, who was in recovery from pain pill addiction, had created and organized the tournament last year.

k.florin@theday.com

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