Convicted Vt. murderer strikes deal that could result in release
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont man convicted in the murder of his wife nearly 30 years ago could be getting out of prison soon under a deal struck with prosecutors.
A jury in 1994 found Gregory Fitzgerald guilty of first-degree murder following the death of his wife, Amy. Now, after years of appeals, the defense has struck a new agreement with state prosecutors.
“It was a cold-blooded, calculated murder,” said Dave Zeltserman, Amy’s brother. He says his parents were never the same following their daughter’s death. “It destroyed my parents, took my sister away from us. My sister had a lot to offer society and she was a wonderful person.”
Amy served as a captain in the Army and was awarded the Douglas McArthur leadership award in the early ‘90s. She was a master’s student at the University of Vermont and lived in a condo in Shelburne.
In May of 1993, her body was discovered inside her home. Police said she was strangled by Fitzgerald, who denied any involvement at the time. The family suspects his motive was a $100,000 military insurance payout. Investigators were able to piece together the multi-state murder scheme involving plane trips and rental cars.
“We conclude that the appropriate sentence in this case -- that the defendant be sentenced to life in prison without parole,” said the judge during Fitzgerald’s 1994 sentencing.
Then came the appeals. Most of them lost, until now. Defense attorneys uncovered a plea deal that was offered before the case even went to trial. Fitzgerald says his attorney never told him about the offer and that he failed to mention that if convicted, he’d face life without parole.
“So, those were two things that we really couldn’t argue. There was not any evidence to support he did know,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George. She says her options were limited. The state has now agreed to a stipulation that offers Fitzgerald the same outcome of the original plea -- the possibility of parole.
Kelly Green, one of Fitzgerald’s attorneys, calls it a fair resolution that ends years of litigation. “You have a right to your attorney conveying a plea offer to you accurately and promptly and that didn’t happen in this case,” she said.
As part of the deal, Fitzgerald now admits to the murder for the first time. It also prevents the possibility of a new trial that would have relied on outdated evidence and statements. “That is a really big risk when you are talking about a homicide charge from 30 years ago,” George said.
If the state lost, Fitzgerald would walk free. but under the current deal, he’s now allowed to begin Department of Corrections programming to ensure he’s no longer a risk. There’s no set date on when the 64-year-old will be released on parole. If it were up to the family, he wouldn’t be. “I have no doubt that when he feels emboldened enough, he will victimize someone else in the future,” Zeltserman said.
George says Fitzgerald will only be released to the community once he completes that required programming and he’s deemed safe to return. She says he has had no disciplinary record while in custody.
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