Original article no longer available
Friday, December 5, 2008 5:56 PM EST
By Matt Chiappardi, Staff Writer
Argument over remote control led to killing
TRENTON The East Windsor man charged with the murder of his live-in girlfriend has admitted he stabbed her nearly 30 times over an argument about a television remote control.
Donald Zampini, 73, of Wyndmoor Drive, on Tuesday accepted an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated manslaughter immediately before opening arguments in his trial were set to begin.
He now faces 18 years in prison and must serve at least 15 years before he is eligible for parole, said Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey.
Mr. Zampini was charged with killing Barbara Morris at their home on Sept. 1, 2006 with a household knife. Shortly after, he apparently attempted suicide by ingesting over-the-counter sleep aids.
Police said at the time that they found Ms. Morris’ body in the home’s living room, along with a barely conscious Mr. Zampini, who had cuts and bruises on his hands, after receiving a 911 call at 12:57 a.m.
Mr. Zampini acknowledged Tuesday during the proceeding at the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse on South Broad Street that it was he who made the emergency call during which he admitted his role in Ms. Morris’ death and announced his intention to kill himself as well.
Mr. Zampini said in court that he did not recall the specific events during the murder. But, upon questioning from Judge Delehey, he did agree that the forensic evidence that indicated his girlfriend was stabbed 28 times was accurate.
When asked further by Judge Delehey if he caused Ms. Morris’ death, Mr. Zampini solemnly responded, “Yes, I did, your honor.”
“It started as a slight altercation over a remote control,” he said. “She removed it from my hand, and I told her I’d like to have it back. This mild altercation escalated into what it was.”
“Prosecuting attorney Skylar Weissman said he was satisfied with the plea agreement.
“Hopefully, he won’t see another day outside of prison,” Mr. Weissman said.
“Eighteen years could be a life sentence for him,” he added.
Mr. Zampini will not be eligible for parole until he is 86 years old. He has already spent more than two years being held at the Mercer County Correction Center in Hopewell, which will count toward his time served.
Defense attorney John Holliday said Mr. Zampini was “very relieved” about the agreement.
“He thinks this is a fair recommendation. He will finally get all of this behind him and not be exposed to a life sentence,” Mr. Holliday said.
Before the proceeding started, Mr. Holliday explained that he planned to defend Mr. Zampini by citing that his client was mentally ill and, therefore, could not have “purposefully and knowingly committed murder” at the time of the killing.
While being questioned by Judge Delehey, Mr. Zampini said he suffers from depression and he’d been prescribed Prozac.
Looking frail and gaunt and wearing an ill-fitting suit, Mr. Zampini was led into the courtroom wearing handcuffs and leg irons for what was expected to be his trial for murder, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and unlawful possession of a weapon.
But while both attorneys had estimated immediately before Tuesday’s proceedings that the trial would take about two weeks, the proceedings lasted barely an hour once Mr. Zampini agreed to his deal.
As soon as he was unfastened from his shackles, Mr. Zampini glanced several times at several family members of Ms. Morris who were the only people who attended the proceedings Tuesday other than court officials and the media.
Each of the family members declined comment after the proceedings were concluded and spent much of their time in the courtroom silently weeping.
After Mr. Zampini appeared before the judge, he was led out in chains, but took a moment to mutter a quiet “I’m sorry” to the victim’s family. None of them reacted.
Mr. Zampini is scheduled for a formal sentencing hearing on Jan. 27.
Judge Delehey revoked the $500,000 bail, forcing Mr. Zampini to be transported back to the Mercer County Correction Center in Hopewell to await sentencing.