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Long Beach woman pleads not guilty in estranged lover's killing

Above, firefighters at the scene of the blaze

Above, firefighters at the scene of the blaze on Centre Island, Nov. 20, 2018. At right, Jennifer Gross, 54, of Long Beach, who is facing murder and arson charges. Credit: Kevin Madigan

A Long Beach woman pleaded not guilty Thursday in Nassau County Court to an indictment of second-degree murder in the killing of her estranged lover, who was found beaten to death with a kitchen pan in his burning Centre Island home last year.

Jennifer Gross, 54, entered the plea to Judge Meryl Berkowitz after a grand jury’s indictment on seven charges, including two counts of second-degree murder, one count of manslaughter, arson, aggravated criminal contempt, burglary and robbery in the killing of James M. Coppola.

Coppola, 75, was found dead Nov. 20, 2018, after firefighters extinguished a house fire and found his body badly beaten near his front door.

Gross was ordered held without bail and is due back in court Dec. 18. If convicted, she faces 47 years to life in prison. Her attorney, Jeff Groder, declined to comment.

Prosecutors said they would review statements Gross made after the death last year and again during her arrest in September.  The grand jury returned two second-degree murder charges, one based on committing a murder in the course of a robbery and one based on committing a murder during a burglary.

“The defendant is accused of violently killing her romantic partner and then setting his house on fire to conceal this heinous crime,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement Thursday. "Our condolences remain with Mr. Coppola's family and friends as they continue to mourn his death."

A group of Coppola’s family members sat in the Mineola courtroom during the brief arraignment.

“We thank the district attorney and investigators for their effort to bring the family justice,” James Coppola’s son, John Coppola, said.

Homicide detectives said Gross went to Coppola’s home asking for money following a 20-year relationship which included ongoing violence and “stealing of money.”

When he refused to turn over the money, police said Gross attacked him and robbed his home and body of jewelry and other belongings.

Police said she then set the home on fire to cover up the murder and fled the home in a taxi. Police were able to name her as a suspect after she pawned the jewelry he was wearing the night he was killed.

Police said Gross was a homeless drifter relying on money from Coppola and others. 

Gross was previously married to former Nassau County Court Judge David Gross, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiring with an accused mobster to launder more than $400,000 in profits from stolen jewelry. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison.

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