A man who last month led police to the makeshift grave where his estranged wife was buried pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree manslaughter in her death in exchange for a promise that he will not receive the maximum sentence.
Robert Piwowar, 36, admitted to State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell that he strangled and bludgeoned Michelle Piwowar because he was "very upset at the time" and was trying to hurt her.
In a courtroom filled to capacity with Michelle Piwowar's relatives and friends, O'Donnell, presiding judge of Erie County's new Integrated Domestic Violence Court, told the defendant he will not get the maximum 25-year prison term he could receive. Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 8.
Deputy District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III told the judge the manslaughter plea was negotiated by defense attorney Charles Gallagher before Piwowar would agree to reveal the location of his wife's body. Authorities had made more than a dozen fruitless searches for the missing woman for days before Piwowar made his admission.
After the proceeding, relatives of the victim declined to comment but thanked Hamburg police Capt. A. Daniel Shea, chief of detectives, and Hamburg Detective Michael Sauer, who both came to court for the proceeding.
Gallagher declined to comment as he left court.
During the 10-minute court session, Piwowar told the judge that while he and his estranged wife were in the Tifft Nature Preserve on Oct. 23, "I became angry and I strangled my wife." He said he "was very upset at the time" and beat and strangled her.
Police investigators were told by witnesses that the couple had been seen leaving Michelle Piwowar's Hamburg home early on the morning of Oct. 23. A small amount of his wife's blood and some of her hair were found in Piwowar's car prior to the plea deal.
Piwowar, who had a recent history of violating court orders of protection his spouse had obtained from O'Donnell, reported her "missing" to police the day after her slaying. He was jailed on felony criminal contempt charges in the case shortly after he killed his wife and before her body was found.
O'Donnell told Piwowar he will sentence him on the manslaughter plea and his earlier plea to misdemeanor criminal contempt. The judge told him he will consider all elements of the case in determining the proper sentence, including Piwowar's background.