Criminal Justice

Heat-of-passion defense no longer available in slayings after infidelity disclosure, top state court says

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The top court in Massachusetts has ruled that a murder defendant who kills a partner after being told of infidelity can’t use a heat-of-passion defense to lower the charge to voluntary manslaughter.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against Peter Ronchi in a Feb. 14 opinion that upheld his convictions on two murder counts for the May 2009 stabbing death of his girlfriend, who was nine months pregnant. The girlfriend, Yuliya Galperina, was stabbed at least 15 times, leading to the death of the viable fetus.

Galperina had falsely told Ronchi during an argument that he was not the father. He argued that this was enough provocation to lower his liability for the slaying to manslaughter.

The court rejected that assertion in an opinion by Justice Frank M. Gaziano.

The justices “take this opportunity to disavow our precedent on reasonable provocation based on sudden oral revelations of infidelity, and, relatedly, lack of paternity,” Gaziano wrote for the court.

The disavowed precedent “rests upon a shaky, misogynistic foundation and has no place in our modern jurisprudence,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said. “Going forward, we no longer will recognize that an oral discovery of infidelity satisfies the objective element of something that would provoke a reasonable person to kill his or her spouse.”

Ronchi also argued that the fetus died from a lack of blood circulation from the mother and had not been stabbed, making him not guilty of that murder count. That contention “is strained at best,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said.

A concurring justice, Justice Elspeth B. Cypher, said the court had taken an important first step by finding that oral revelations of adultery, on their own, can’t induce a reasonable person to kill their pregnant partner.

Cypher said she would go one step further to hold that discovery of adultery, whether from oral or personal observation, doesn’t amount to adequate provocation to kill a partner.

Courthouse News Service and the Daily Beast noted the opinion, while Bloomberg Law had coverage of the ruling regarding the fetus.

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