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Driver in Preston homicide had fully loaded pistol in Hartford home

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State police say the driver in the Oct. 26 shooting death of Robert Thompson in Preston had a fully loaded, .40 caliber handgun in his Hartford home, within reach of a child, when detectives searched the residence the day after the homicide. 

Michael Soto, 42, of 30 Roslyn St., Hartford, is the owner of a silver 2010 Mercedes-Benz C300 from which state police allege passenger Francis L. Giannelli of Glastonbury shot Thompson, a passenger in a 1999 Chevrolet K1500 pickup, with a .380-caliber handgun after an earlier dispute at Mohegan Sun.

Soto has not been arrested in connection with the homicide but was charged Nov. 1 with risk of injury to a minor and unsafe storage of a firearm in a home. Free on a $50,000 bond, he has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Hartford Superior Court. His next court date is Nov. 27.

According to a recently unsealed arrest warrant affidavit written by detective Shaun Tucker of the Eastern District Major Crime Squad, state police were looking for "pistols, revolvers, projectiles, ammunition, bullet casings and fragments" when they searched Soto's home on Oct. 27 and found a Glock 27 .40 caliber handgun.

The Glock, loaded with ten rounds of ammunition — nine in the magazine and one in the chamber, was in the unlocked top drawer of a dresser in the unlocked master bedroom on the first floor of the home, according to the affidavit.

Soto lives at the home with a female, a severely disabled 22-year-old male and, the charges indicate, a minor under the age of 16.

Soto has a valid Connecticut pistol permit, according to the affidavit. He had taken possession of the .40-caliber handgun on Sept. 30, and it was registered with the state on Oct. 10.

Giannelli, who turned himself in to state police on Oct. 29, confessed to emptying a .380 caliber pistol into a pickup truck, he said in self-defense, following the dispute at Mohegan Sun. Detectives recovered six .380-caliber spent shell casings from the crime scene, and a bullet was recovered from Thompson's body during the autopsy. Giannelli told detectives the gun he was carrying was not registered to him and that he didn't have a valid pistol permit.

He remains incarcerated, and his murder case is pending in New London Superior Court.

Detectives had tracked down Soto after a witness to the 1:22 a.m. shooting near the intersections of Route 12 and 2A provided police with a description of the Mercedes, which the witness described as a "sleek" gray sedan, along with a description of its driver and license plate number.

A male identified only as "Witness 1" in the affidavit called 911 at 1:22 a.m. to say he had just witnessed a shooting at the intersection of Routes 12 and 2A in Preston.

He said a black pick-up truck was in the far right turn lane and two light-colored sedans were in the center and left turn lanes to the left of the truck. Behind the sedan in the left lane was the "sleek" car. The witness said he heard five to seven gunshots as he turned right. He said as he continued to drive west, he saw the "sleek" car pass the other cars on the left. Using his rear view mirrors, he said he saw the Mercedes make a u-turn and travel west on Route 2A, toward Interstate 395, at high speed. The witness said that the car caught up to him quickly, even though he was driving fast in an attempt to escape and that he was able to see the driver as the car passed him.

A dispatcher at Troop E in Montville entered the license plate number provided by the witness into the COLLECT database and learned that Soto was the registered owner of the Mercedes.

About six minutes after the shooting was reported, Ledyard Police Officer Gary Butters, conducting routine speeding enforcement on Route 12 about 6.5 miles from the crime scene, pulled over the Chevy pickup truck. The driver, identified in the affidavit only as Witness 2, initially failed to stop, and when he did, he put his hands out the window and gestured towards Butters to hurry up, according to the affidavit. He explained that his "buddy" had been shot and he was driving him to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London.

Butters, seeing the passenger was unconscious and had suffered substantial blood loss, escorted the pickup truck to L+M, arriving at approximately 1:49 a.m. Thompson, 35, of Preston, was pronounced dead at 2:22 a.m., victim of a single gunshot wound to the neck.

Questioned by police on the afternoon following the shooting, Soto provided little information about his whereabouts on the night of the homicide, telling detectives only that he had gone to Mohegan Sun, met up with friends and had dinner. Questioned about specifics, he said he did not want to speak with the detectives anymore. 

k.florin@theday.com

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