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Four years of hurt and anger prompted Michael and Marge Pinelli to explode outside a Buffalo courtroom Monday.

Their 24-year-old son, John, was shot in the head during a gangland-style execution in September 1986.

They later learned that their son's father-in-law, brother-in-law and one of his friends were responsible.

And then they found out that the man accused of pulling the trigger was going to lighten his jail sentence through a plea bargain.

And when they saw the killer -- William Koopman, who pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter -- walk into State Supreme Court, the Pinellis said they just "lost it."

"It was too much to take," Mrs. Pinelli said. "There he was, Billy Koopman, walking into court with no handcuffs, wearing sunglasses, with this beautiful suit. With all these policemen escorting him like he was the president. We couldn't take it."

There was a brief scuffle. Members of the Pinelli family shouted some ugly words. And friends and court deputies had to restrain Michael Pinelli from lunging at the 33-year-old Koopman.

"When the man who shot your son in the back of the head walks right past you, it does something to you," Pinelli said. "You feel like reaching out and killing him with your bare hands."

The plea agreement was presented Monday for the approval of State Supreme Court Justice Frederick M. Marshall, who will sentence Koopman in February. Marshall said in court he probably would give Koopman the minimum 5-to-15-year term if he continues to cooperate.

Koopman, a former Buffalo garbage collector, is charged with killing Pinelli in a car and dumping his body into a ditch in Eden.

Pinelli's father-in-law, Luciano "Dilly" Spataro, 57, was convicted of complicity in the killing and is serving a term of eight years to life. His son, Carmen Spataro, 28, has been identified in court papers as an accomplice in the death but has not yet been charged.

Prosecutors said the elder Spataro made the arrangements for the murder, with Koopman pulling the trigger as he sat in the back seat of a car while Carmen Spataro drove and Pinelli sat next to the driver.

The killing took place one day before Pinelli was to provide prosecutors information on the elder Spataro's involvement in a robbery.

This year, however, Koopman has become one of the most important police informants ever in the Buffalo area. The government witness turned against his former mentor, "Dilly" Spataro, and helped prosecutors obtain indictments against five suspects in three different long-unsolved murder cases.

According to police sources, he is providing information on about five other unsolved killings.

But while Koopman's exploits as a government witness have been making local headlines, members of the Pinelli family have been seething. Now they claim police and prosecutors in District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon's office lied to them about a plea bargain that could leave Koopman serving as little as five years in prison for the slaying of their son.

"When my son was killed, I thought about taking things into my own hands. I had a couple people tell me, 'Look, we'll take care of them (the killers) for you, just say the word,' " said Pinelli, 60. "There were rumors that I had put a contract out on the killers. It wasn't true -- if I was going to do something, I would do it myself. I said, 'No, we'll cooperate with the police and let them handle it. We'll help the police make a case.' "

Pinelli said he doesn't regret cooperating with prosecutors and police, but he and his wife feel their son's life seems to be losing value while investigators chase indictments in other cases.

"I'm glad they are making other cases, but isn't my son's life worth more than five years in prison?" asked Pinelli, a carnival operator and former president of the West Side Businessmen and Taxpayers Association.

Dillon, in turn, says the Pinellis are either lying or are monumentally confused about what was said to them about the sentence.

The Pinellis said that, on at least 20 occasions, police and prosecutors have told them that Koopman would serve no less than 15 years in prison. They said the statements were made repeatedly by an Amherst police detective sergeant, Bill Bambach; an investigator on Dillon's staff, John Montondo, and two top Dillon aides -- Deputy District Attorney John J. DeFranks and Special Investigations Chief Thomas P. Franczyk.

"It was repeated to us, over and over," Mrs. Pinelli said. "Billy (Koopman) will get 15 years, they said. But it will be 'easy time' in the federal prison -- not Attica. And then he will get out and go into the Federal Witness Protection Program.

"They always asked me, 'Mrs. Pinelli, can you live with that?' And I said yes, because if he becomes an informant, maybe the families of other murder victims would get some peace."

Franczyk repeated the promise as recently as last week, Mrs. Pinelli said.

But Dillon, Franczyk and DeFranks all denied such a representation was ever made to anyone in the Pinelli family. Bambach and Montondo could not be reached to comment.

"That is a lie. L-I-E. A lie," Dillon said. "It doesn't even make sense."

First of all, Dillon said, no plea deal can be made without approval from a judge.

Second, Koopman would be foolish to agree to a 15-year minimum sentence because, as a first-time felon charged with manslaughter, he would be unlikely to serve 15 years, even if convicted.

Also, Dillon said, his prosecutors would only destroy their own credibility if they lied to the family of a murder victim.

"I sympathize with the family. No parents should ever have to go through the ordeal of outliving one of their children," Dillon said. "This is an unusual case, because of Koopman's involvement in murders. But the situation is not unusual. . . . We see this kind of thing once a week, or every two weeks. The family of a crime victim is not happy with a plea bargain."

Franczyk and DeFranks said the Pinellis are either lying or confused about what was said to them during an emotional period in their lives.

The Pinellis, however, weren't budging. Pinelli said he and his family provided Dillon's office information that helped turn Koopman into an informant.

"We are positive of what they told us, because it was said over and over again," Mrs. Pinelli said.

Richard Barnes, Koopman's attorney, was the other key player in the plea negotiations. Barnes said he was unaware if any promises were made to the Pinellis, but he said Koopman and Dillon only reached agreement on the deal two weeks ago. Before that, he said, several sentencing possibilities were discussed.

"It was a long, slow process, and there were some misunderstandings," he said. "I don't blame them for being angry. As a parent, I'd be as angry as they are at Koopman. You can't argue with somebody who has lost a son.

"As Billy's lawyer, all I can say is that he is probably the most valuable informant they've ever had in Erie County. The deal we made is a fair one considering the information he is providing."

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