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Teen pleads guilty in group home slaying <br> Agrees to testify against co-defendant

One of the teens charged with killing group home worker Renee Greco last year pleaded guilty to manslaughter Tuesday in Niagara County Court and agreed to testify against his co-defendant, described by investigators as the mastermind of the slaying.

Robert J. Thousand, 18, of Rochester, will receive 20 to 25 years in state prison as part of a plea bargain worked out with prosecutors.

Thousand agreed to allow statements and a taped interview conducted the day after the June 8, 2009, killing to be used against Anthony J. Allen, 19, also of Rochester, and to testify against Allen in a trial scheduled to start Aug. 23.

Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said he approached Thousand's mother six months ago about a possible plea agreement. Thousand will be sentenced Oct. 8.

Meanwhile, corrections officers have kept Thousand and Allen apart during their court appearances, which have been scheduled on the same days.

Allen sat in a separate courthouse room Tuesday morning as Thousand appeared in court, chained, shackled and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. Thousand said little as he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

The two teens were arrested near the bus station in Buffalo a few hours after Greco was bludgeoned to death while playing cards with three other teens she was supervising at Avenue House, a group home for troubled youth in Lockport.

Greco, 24, of Buffalo, was the lone supervisor on duty at the time.

The East Avenue home, operated by New Directions Youth & Family Services, closed shortly after the slaying and has not reopened.

Both teens were indicted on charges of second-degree murder, second-degree robbery and third-degree burglary. Allen also faces a more serious charge of first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence in prison.

Police have said a blanket was thrown over Greco's head and she was beaten to death with a heavy wooden object.

Police and prosecutors consider Thousand an accomplice in the killing.

The two were accused of killing Greco to cover up the theft of $160 from her office two days earlier and also of stealing keys and a group home van to make their getaway.

The two teens were scheduled to be tried together starting next week. Separate juries in the courtroom were to listen to testimony, consider evidence and render verdicts, one for Thousand, the other for Allen, Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza ruled last month.

Tuesday's plea means Allen will stand trial alone.

Allen showed up for his court appearance Tuesday sporting a black left eye and carrying a pocket-sized version of the New Testament.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the burglary charge against Allen, which would have been tried next week before the murder case. His defense attorney, E. Earl Key, has argued that the alleged burglary sparked his client's extreme emotional distress, which led to the slaying.

Sperrazza previously ruled that charge would need to be tried separately. The judge also had ruled that prosecutors at the murder trial may mention the office break-in but not the fact Allen was charged with it.

Assistant District Attorney Holly E. Sloma said that dismissing the charge will allow prosecutors to call Allen a suspect in the burglary. If he had been acquitted of that charge before the murder trial, it would have been harder to introduce evidence about the burglary into the murder case, she said.

Key said Allen was not offered a plea bargain.

The murder trial was postponed until August because Sperrazza authorized $1,500 for the defense to hire an independent medical professional to study autopsy results in the case.

Key made the request in light of recent criticisms and concerns over unrelated criminal cases involving Erie County Medical Examiner Dr. James Woytash, who also was involved with the Greco autopsy.

Sloma said if the issue of Woytash's competence is going to be brought into the case, even though it is irrelevant, prosecutors also would have to hire another expert, which would take time.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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