The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of a Marblehead man in the 2009 slaying of his girlfriend and her unborn child, and, in doing so, struck down a judicial precedent that had allowed men to skirt murder convictions by way of arguing the killing was committed “in the heat of passion.”
On the evening of May 16, 2009, Peter Ronchi repeatedly stabbed his girlfriend, Yuliya Galperina, who was nine months pregnant, killing her and the unborn child after she told him the child she was carrying was not his.
The revelation, which the court noted was false, came at the close of a long argument in which Ronchi and Galperina debated the best medical care for the child.
During his trial, Ronchi testified that he “lost it” when Galperina told him the child was not his and blacked out, stabbing her 15 times and leaving her to bleed out beneath a sheet in her Salem apartment.
A Salem Superior Court Jury subsequently convicted him on two counts of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The crux of Ronchi’s appeal had to do with the idea that a jury could not have found that he committed the murder with any sense of premeditation because of the revelation from Galperina that the child was not his, which he argued enraged him to the point of murder. He also argued that he could not have been held liable for the child’s death as it died due to a loss of maternal blood flow, and not as a result of his attack.
Ronchi had appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court to reduce his convictions from first-degree murder to manslaughter.
Neil L. Fishman, Ronchi’s appellate lawyer, said he had no comment on the ruling.
Justice Frank M. Gaziano, writing for the court, denied Ronchi’s appeal and decried the very judicial precedent his case rested on.
“We conclude that the exception in the Commonwealth to the mere words rule for sudden oral revelations of infidelity has run its course,” Gaziano wrote. “The exception rests upon a shaky, misogynistic foundation and has no place in our modern jurisprudence. 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.”
Gaziano wrote that Ronchi’s argument that the unborn child was uninjured by his stabbing of Galperina was “strained at best,” adding that “the defendant committed an act of violence against a woman who was nine months pregnant, repeatedly stabbing her in, among other areas, the torso, where the vital organs are located.”
“By ending the mother’s life, he destroyed the viable fetus through the cessation of life-sustaining maternal blood flow.”
Essex County District Attorney Paul Tucker, who oversaw the case as detective captain of the Salem Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, praised the court’s decision in a statement.
“I’m pleased the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions in the brutal slayings of Yuliya Galperina and her unborn son,” Tucker said. “The SJC has fully recognized that this defense has no place in a modern society. Partner violence is never acceptable – for any reason – and our office will continue to stand with victims and survivors, and hold offenders accountable.”