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Two public defenders appointed in Preston drive-by homicide

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Twenty-five year-old Francis L. Giannelli of Glastonbury, who faces murder and firearms charges in connection with an Oct. 27 drive-by shooting in Preston, was appointed two public defenders Monday when he made his first appearance in the New London court where major crimes are tried.

The mother and sister of victim Robert Thompson, 35, of Preston, were also in the courtroom for Giannelli's brief appearance.

Judge Hillary B. Strackbein appointed attorneys Kevin C. Barrs and M. Fred DeCaprio from the public defender's office to represent Giannelli, who is being held on a $1 million bond at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield.

According to state police, Giannelli, a passenger in a Mercedes C300, turned himself in two days later and confessed to emptying a .380 caliber pistol into a pickup truck near the intersection of Routes 2A and 12 in the early morning hours of Oct. 27, killing Thompson, its passenger, after an earlier altercation at Mohegan Sun.

Thompson died of a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which ruled his death a homicide.

The registered owner of the Mercedes, 42-year-old Michael Soto of Hartford, was charged with risk of injury to a minor and unsafe storage of a firearm in a home. Free on a $50,000 bond, Soto has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to return to Hartford Superior Court on Nov. 27.

 The judge on Monday granted motions from prosecutor Paul J. Narducci to seal four search warrants in the case through Giannelli's next court appearance on Dec. 20 due to the continuing investigation by the state police Eastern District Major Crime Squad.

The sealed search warrants appear to be for the 1999 Chevrolet K1500 pickup truck in which Thompson was riding, the Mercedes, which is registered to Soto, Soto's residence at 30 Roslyn Street in Hartford and Giannelli's home at 522 Woodland St. in Glastonbury.

Giannelli has not yet entered a plea in the case because as a defendant in a murder case, he is entitled to a probable cause hearing at which the state must prove it has enough evidence to prosecute him. He will be discussing with his attorneys whether he wants such a hearing. He faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted of murder.

In an interview with detectives, Giannelli said Soto had picked him up in Glastonbury and they drove to Mohegan Sun. Giannelli said he saw Thompson in the Comix Roadhouse bar, where it looked as if Thompson was taking pictures of him with his cellphone. He said he gave Thompson a look and may have said something to him that Thompson didn't hear.

Giannelli said he ran into Thompson again in the side foyer of the casino and had an altercation with Thompson and the man Thompson was with. He said they exchanged words, and security staff asked them to leave. He said a second altercation occurred before they left because he saw the victim taking pictures of him again.

Giannelli said they ran into one another again on the top level of the Riverview Parking garage, and that as Thompson and the other man got into a pickup truck, they both made "a gun gesture" with their fingers, which he understood to be a threat that they were going to shoot him.

Giannelli said he was in the passenger seat of the car as it pulled up to the stoplight at routes 2A and 12. He said he looked to his right and saw Thompson and the other man in the pickup truck. He said he was carrying a semi-automatic handgun that night that is not registered to him and that he didn't have a valid pistol permit.

Sitting at the traffic light, Giannelli said he saw the driver, who was older, move his right hand from the steering wheel down to his side and it appeared he might be reaching for a gun. Giannelli said he shot six times, in "self defense."


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