Murder trial halted as man pleads no contest in Preston murder
A Glastonbury man is facing 18 years in prison after pleading no contest on Wednesday to first-degree manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of 35-year-old Robert Thompson of Preston in 2019.
Francis Giannelli, 28, entered the plea on the eve of his murder trial in New London Superior Court. A jury had been picked for the trial and evidence was expected to commence on Wednesday.
Giannelli accepted the 18-year sentence in exchange for his plea to the charge of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. The nolo contendere, or no contest plea, means Giannelli does not technically admit guilt but agrees to the accept the sentence of the court.
The full sentence is 27 years in prison, suspended after 18 years served, and five years of probation. This summer, Giannelli had rejected a plea offer of 35 years in prison.
Giannelli faced a much harsher sentence — more than 60 years in prison — if the case had gone to trial. He was charged with murder and firearms-related charges in connection with the Oct. 26, 2019 shooting death of Thompson, a union carpenter and body builder from Preston.
Police said both men had ties to rival motorcycle gangs and were among two groups involved in an argument at Mohegan Sun Casino on the night of the killing.
A short time later, Thompson was a passenger in a pick-up truck stopped at a red light at the intersection of routes 12 and 2A in Preston when Giannelli fired six shots from a handgun while seated in the passenger seat of vehicle that was stopped alongside the truck.
Giannelli claimed the shooting was an act of self defense, that the driver of the truck in which Thompson was a passenger — Randy Deveau — had motioned as if reaching for a gun.
Thompson died of a single gunshot wound to the neck. Giannelli later turned himself in and confessed to the killing, police said.
“Yeah, I’m the one who shot the truck. I’d like to state it was self defense,” Giannelli told police, according to the affidavit for his arrest warrant.
Incriminating statements Giannelli made to an undercover police detective at the Troop E barracks in Montville, however, was the subject of a motion to suppress filed by one of Giannelli’s defense attorneys, Michael Miller.
Miller argued that the statements to the undercover officer came after Giannelli had invoked his right to not speak without an attorney.
New London County State’s Attorney Paul Narducci, who was prosecuting the case, called the agreement a “reasonable disposition to resolve the case short of trial.”
Narducci said the state was prepared to present evidence, but had offered the agreement in light of a “thorough, in-depth review of all of the evidence.“ He said there were several outstanding motions by the defense that would have determined whether or not certain evidence for the prosecution could have been presented at trial.
Narducci reserved further comment for sentencing, which is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Chief Public Defender Kevin Barrs called the plea agreement a compromise in which both sides remain unhappy with the results.
“But in the end that’s the essence of a compromise,” Barrs said.
Thompson’s death is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by filed by Susan Thompson, the administrator for Thompson’s estate. The suit was filed against Gary Giannelli, Francis Giannelli’s father and owner of the gun used to kill Thompson.