A man who was serving life behind bars without parole for a 1998 double slaying in Baldwin when a federal judge found his inability to hear at his first trial made it unfair is going back to prison again.
A Nassau judge sentenced John Pierotti on Wednesday to the same punishment following his conviction at a retrial last year for the deadly shooting of two drinking buddies outside a tavern.
A jury in February 2020 found the 66-year-old guilty of first-degree murder and weapon charges in the deaths of carpenters Gerard Kennedy Jr., 36, and Willis Frost, 41, outside what was once known as the Dragger Inn.
It was the same verdict a different Nassau jury reached in 2000.
"Twenty-four people evaluated the evidence ... and concluded that you killed two men in cold blood. You were guilty 20 years ago and you are guilty today," acting state Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty told Pierotti.
"You will spend the rest of your natural life behind bars and I hope during your remaining time you atone for your sins," she added.
Pierotti claimed at both trials, and again Wednesday, that he was acting in self-defense during the deadly encounter on Dec. 23, 1998.
"I'm the only one that knows what happened that night," he said Wednesday.
It was part of a statement in which he also spoke of suffering from multiple medical ailments, getting COVID-19 at Nassau's jail, and beatings he said he suffered in prison before telling the judge his fate was in her hands.
"It is a real possibility that a sentence of life without parole would be a death sentence," his defense attorney, Joseph Lo Piccolo, also told the judge Wednesday.
But Nassau prosecutor Nicole Aloise asked Gugerty to impose the harshest sentence for what she called Pierotti's "inexcusable crimes." She also read part of a letter from Frost's niece, who said she hoped Pierotti would take time to think about how his bad choices had affected the lives of the victims' survivors.
A federal judge in 2018 found Pierotti had a severe hearing impairment and was "essentially rendered absent" for significant portions of his first trial. That judicial ruling, which followed years of appeals from Pierotti, ordered prison officials to release him unless prosecutors took steps to retry him.
Last year, Pierotti wore headphones throughout his Nassau County Court retrial to amplify the proceedings and court officials did microphone checks each day.
Prosecutors contended Pierotti brought a .22-caliber revolver to the Milburn Avenue tavern and the distance between the victims’ bodies at the homicide scene showed Kennedy and Frost couldn’t have attacked Pierotti.
The victims had gone outside to use drugs in a van before Pierotti attacked the unarmed men by shooting Frost in the chest and Kennedy in one his eyes, prosecutor Martin Meaney — now retired — said at last year’s retrial.
But Pierotti’s retrial attorney, Dana Grossblatt, contended Frost got angry after Pierotti for a second time approached a van Frost used for his job to ask for a battery jump for his own van.
She told jurors Pierotti wrestled away a revolver from Frost and then shot Frost and Kennedy — who also threatened him — to save his own life.
Pierotti’s former girlfriend, Melissa Johnson, was the prosecution’s key witness. She told police months after the shooting that Pierotti, with whom she has three children, left their home with her late father’s revolver before the shooting and said after coming home that he had killed two people.
But Grossblatt portrayed Johnson as a drug addict who initially stuck by Pierotti and his innocence claim but changed her story after dumping him later for another man.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in statement after Wednesday's sentencing that Pierotti showed "absolutely no remorse" for the murders.
"He senselessly shot these two men at point blank range outside a bar. The Kennedy and Frost families have suffered greatly these last two decades and I thank them for their extraordinary perseverance during the retrial," she added.
Kennedy's cousin, Marion Kennedy Marchese, 59, said later Wednesday that her family was relieved by Pierotti's punishment.
"I'm very happy that he was sentenced with the same outcome as before," the Copiague resident said of the penalty of life in prison. "May he be there the rest of his days."