Government informant William Koopman today pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in the 1986 gangland-style murder of John Pinelli, and a judge indicated he would probably sentence him to the minimum term requested by prosecutors.
Koopman, 33, under heavy guard, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, and State Supreme Court Justice Frederick M. Marshall said he would consider the minimum five- to 15-year prison term sought in exchange for Koopman's continued cooperation as an informant.
The plea deal prompted cries of outrage from the victim's family.
Koopman insisted he only drove the car in which Pinelli, 24, was shot in the back of the head before his body was dumped in an Eden ditch Sept. 29, 1986. How-ever, Thomas P. Franczyk, chief of the district attorney's Special Investigations Bureau, told the judge that law enforcement authorities are sure Koopman shot Pinelli. He said the unusually lenient plea deal "is not the type of recommendation our office would normally make," but Koopman is "one of the more productive, if not the most productive," informants the district attorney's office has ever had.
Marshall, who had earlier expressed reservations about leniency for Koopman, agreed to the plea deal. He told Koopman he will be sentenced Feb. 19 and faces a maximum prison term of 8 1/3 to 25 years, but he "might well" get only five to 15 years if he testifies "fully and honestly" in upcoming cases.
Franczyk said that even though Koopman pleaded guilty to a "B" level felony carrying a possible 25-year prison term, prosecutors want him sentenced to a "C" level felony term with a maximum of up to 15 years. Koopman will be admitted to the Federal Witness Protection Program and serve his term in federal custody.
The victim's father, Michael Pinelli, 60, and other family members protested the plea deal outside the courtroom. Pinelli said he felt "double-crossed" because the family had been assured by prosecutors even last week that Koopman would spend 15 to 25 years doing "hard time" in state prison.
Franczyk pleaded with the judge to agree to the manslaughter deal, telling him Koopman's testimony has already led to the indictments of five people in three murders, prompted authorities to "reopen" several other murder cases and paved the way for a number of robbery, burglary and drug indictments. If Koopman's cooperation with state and federal authorities is not "complete and forthcoming," he also faces indictment on a number of robbery and drug cases he has testified about without immunity, the prosecutor said.
Franczyk told the judge that Koopman and Carmen Spataro, 28, son of Koopman's former co-defendant, Luciano Charles "Dilly" Spataro, 57, took Pinelli to Eden on the pretext of committing a crime and shot him. John Pinelli was married to "Dilly" Spataro's daughter, Cindy.
"Dilly" Spataro wanted Koopman to "silence" Pinelli to protect the Spataro family in another case, Franczyk told the judge. "Dilly" Spataro is serving a prison term of 8 1/3 years to life on the Pinelli murder and drug charges and faces trial this week in a 1985 Amherst slaying.