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Wife convicted in 'wrong man' murder

By John Springer
Court TV

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RIVERHEAD, New York (Court TV) -- Lee Ann Reidel smiled nearly every time she was escorted into the courtroom during her six-week murder-for-hire trial, but she cried uncontrollably Friday when a jury pronounced her guilty on all counts.

Reidel, 36, wanted her boyfriend to kill her husband, but he shot the wrong man. It took the jury 29 hours over four days to sort out what exactly prosecutors had proved, but they returned guilty verdicts on all three counts.

After reading the verdicts, the foreman of the 12-member jury put his head in his hands as if he was exasperated. Reidel's crying became louder and louder as Judge Louis Ohlig thanked the jury.

Reidel, of Boynton Beach, Florida, faces life in prison when she is sentenced April 28 for first-degree murder, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

"Can I just say good-bye to my family?" Reidel sobbed as she was led off to jail. Her father and his wife, David and Cathi Armanini, appeared upset but said nothing as they left the courtroom.

Defense attorney Bruce Barket told reporters there would be an appeal. "I respect the jury system. I respect the jury process. I strongly disagree with the verdict," Barket said.

Prosecutor Denise Merrifield said she believed the sequestered jurors deliberated so long because they may have found it difficult to convict a woman when she did not actually participate in the actual killing.

Merrifield called 35 witnesses as she methodically built a case that Reidel's lover, a 35-year-old sometimes-loan-shark collection agent named Ralph Salierno, drove to New York from Florida in January 2001 to kill Lee Ann's husband Paul. Merrifield argued Lee Ann wanted Paul out of her life and wanted his money without the inconvenience of a messy interstate divorce proceeding.

'I want him ... dead'

The key evidence against Lee Ann Reidel and Salierno, who was convicted by a separate jury Tuesday after just four and a half hours of deliberation, came from a drug addict and a drug dealer. The addict, Scott Paget, faces 18 years in prison and admits he drove the getaway car after Salierno shot and killed 32-year-old fitness-club owner Alex Algeri in a case of mistaken identity.

Algeri and Lee Ann's husband Paul were co-owners of the gym where the murder occurred. Paget testified that Salierno told him Lee Ann Reidel had given him a photograph of Paul and directions to his home and business. Drug dealer Michael Paglianti testified he was present when Lee Ann gave Salierno a photograph and said, "I want him f---ing dead."

The defense tried unsuccessfully to argue that Paget and Paglianti are not credible and have motives to lie. Paget's plea bargain has not yet been finalized, and Paglianti is awaiting federal sentencing for growing a quarter pound of marijuana, according to testimony.

The defense claimed that Lee Ann Reidel's mother and her mother's female lover recruited Salierno because they feared Paul Reidel might show up in Florida looking to make trouble after Lee Ann moved there with their infant son and $120,000 of Paul's money.

Members of the jury apparently were hung up for a while on the first-degree murder count. They requested a reading of that charge and the elements of that crime six times during their deliberations. Jurors were escorted out a side entrance to cars in a secured parking lot because they did not wish to speak to reporters, a court officer said.

Algeri's family said they were pleased with the verdict but that there was no cause for celebration.

"Justice has been served completely," said Salvatore Algeri, whose son was shot five times at point-blank range when he entered his SUV to retrieve some compact discs. "It is sad to see another young life got wasted, but these people did a horrible deed."

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