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Couple plead guilty in daughter's death ; Randy, Nicole Colucci face 15 years in prison; 22-month-old girl died in playpen accident

A Niagara Falls couple could serve as long as five to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to second-degree manslaughter in the death of their 22-month-old daughter last year.

But it's also possible that Randy Colucci Sr., 26, and Nicole Colucci, 25, might serve no prison time at all, because a probation sentence is an option.

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza gave no indication of what she might be thinking as she accepted the guilty pleas Monday.

"The court is considering all options in the case, up to and including five to 15 years," Sperrazza said. She scheduled sentencing for 2 p.m. March 24.

Prosecutors said they will ask for the maximum sentence.

Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma and Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said the reason for the plea was not to force the Coluccis' two oldest children, girls ages 9 and 6, to testify against their parents in a trial that was scheduled to begin Jan. 31.

"We had a lot of conversation with the court about the whole thing," said Joseph Terranova, Randy Colucci's attorney. "It was fairly clear in our mind and maybe in the court's that the prosecution might have had a hard time sustaining the murder charge."

But Terranova said there was a risk involved in going to trial on a murder count, and second-degree manslaughter was in the indictment, anyway.

"I think we had a solid manslaughter case without their testimony," Zucco said. But in order to convict the Coluccis of second-degree murder, the highest count in the original indictment, the children's accounts would have been crucial, he said.

"My client wanted to take the plea so her children wouldn't have to testify," said Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer, who represented Nicole Colucci. "It's a hell of a thing to have to make a decision on."

"We didn't want to traumatize them any further," Sloma said. But she added that if the plea deal hadn't been made, the prosecution would have followed through and called the girls to the witness stand.

Carmen and her 11-month-old brother were put into a portable playpen at about 7 p.m. March 30 in the Coluccis' 22nd Street home.

At about noon the next day, Randy Colucci found Carmen with her neck trapped between the top rail of the playpen and a mattress, weighed down with a TV set, which had been placed over the playpen to keep the children from escaping.

On an earlier occasion, the 9-year-old had found Carmen's head between the mattress and the rail and rescued her, but this time, police said, no one checked on the baby for 17 hours.

Carmen died April 8 after being taken off life support in Women & Children's Hospital, Buffalo.

A murder conviction would have resulted in a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison and a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

"We explained all the potential outcomes at trial," Privateer said.

The Coluccis were not charged with intentionally killing their daughter Carmen. The murder count was indicted under a section of the law charging "depraved indifference to human life."

The manslaughter charge required the Coluccis to admit that they recklessly caused Carmen's death. Tearfully, they both did so.

"Guilty," said Nicole, dabbing at her eyes with tissue and sniffling loudly into her microphone.

"Guilty," Randy said through a choked sob.

They remain free on $75,000 bail pending sentencing. The Coluccis were in Niagara County Jail for almost two months after their arraignment before they were bailed out by Randy Colucci's mother and grandmother, who used their homes as collateral for bail bonds.

The two oldest girls were fathered by men other than Randy Colucci, but they considered him their father, Sloma said.

The couple's five living children, including a daughter they had in August, are in foster homes. They also lost a son to sudden infant death syndrome in 2007.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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