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SUSPECT PLEADS GUILTY TO MANSLAUGHTER IN '86 SLAYING

A handyman pleaded guilty Thursday to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of Lynn R. Spandau 12 years ago during a burglary in her Berkshire Avenue home.

However, Benjamin Riley, 51, who lived a few doors from Ms. Spandau and occasionally did odd jobs for her, said he didn't lay a hand on her during the break-in.

He accused a man who died in prison in 1994 of killing Ms. Spandau, 49, whose naked body was found with 16 stab wounds in her head and upper body Sept. 2, 1986.

That man was never charged in the case.

Riley was charged with second-degree murder in the slaying when he was arrested last November, more than 11 years after the slaying.

The arrest came after the victim's daughter called police from her Ohio home in September 1996 and asked if evidence in the case was still in existence and if a DNA test could be done.

At the time of her mother's slaying, DNA testing was a new investigative tool, and it was not used in this case.

The evidence, a bodily fluid, was located and matched with Riley, who was listed as a possible suspect in the Spandau homicide file.

During Thursday's court proceedings, Riley told State Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Forma that his guilty plea will give him "some peace of mind."

He said he can't remember exactly when he and the dead man staged the fatal burglary but said it was around 5 or 6 p.m. between Aug. 31 and Sept. 2, 1986.

He said he came to Ms. Spandau's rear door and asked her if he could borrow her lawnmower, and she let him in and went down to the basement with him. He said he left the door unlocked so that his accomplice could sneak in.

While Riley and Ms. Spandau were downstairs, he said his partner was upstairs and dropped something.

After she confronted the man, Riley said they ended up in the kitchen where he insisted that the man fought with her.

Riley said Ms. Spandau was still alive when he ran out of the house.

He admitted he aided the man in the crime and is willing to pay the consequences but told the judge, "I didn't strike her."

Anne E. Adams and George J. Trimper Jr., Riley's attorneys, said that while authorities last year were able to link Riley's DNA to body fluids found in Ms. Spandau's home, they never got a conclusive DNA link to his partner.

Ms. Adams, a defense DNA expert, said the partner had been a suspect in the murder.

Even though the man's heart and liver were preserved in formaldehyde for possible DNA testing after his death in 1994 at the state's Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy where he was serving a sentence in another burglary, she said scientists found his DNA tainted and couldn't link it to the murder victim.

Forma set sentencing for May 21.

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