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Arson canā??t be used in poisoning trial

February 20. 2013 12:41AM
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WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County prosecutors cannot mention a prior arson conviction at the trial of an 80-year-old woman accused of poisoning her son's girlfriend, but they can present testimony from a witness who said the woman told her of the intense jealousy she had for the victim.

Judge Fred Pierantoni on Thursday said prosecutors cannot mention the 1991 arson conviction of Helen Galli at her upcoming trial because that crime happened too long ago and was not similar enough to the current charges.

Galli, of Wyoming, is set to stand trial on Feb. 25 on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment for allegedly pouring antifreeze into a drink that was consumed by Dawn Simyan, who was dating her son, Victor. Simyan suffered ethylene glycol poisoning that led to kidney failure but survived the March 31, 2010 assault.

Police contend Helen Galli spiked the drink because she was jealous Victor Galli was spending more time with Simyan than he was with her. She was also concerned Simyan was after her son's money.

The District Attorney's Office had hoped to tell jurors about Helen Galli's conviction for supplying two granddaughters with kerosene that was used to set a fire on May 7, 1990 at the home of her daughter-in-law, Ruth Ann Galli, who was married to her son Frank. Ruth Ann Galli survived the blaze.

Under state law, prosecutors can present information of prior convictions or other bad acts if they can show the value of the evidence outweighs any prejudice that would be caused to the defendant.

Pierantoni denied the request to present evidence of the 1991 conviction, saying the prejudicial implications of the information outweighed any probative value in the current case.

The judge handed prosecutors a partial victory, however, ruling that they could present the testimony of Helen Galli's neighbor, Michelle Chmielewski.

Chmielewski will be permitted to testify about how Helen Galli told Chmielewski of her disdain for Simyan and how she once asked Chmielewski if she knew anyone who could blow up Simyan's car.

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