Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney. Credit: James Carbone

A Shirley resident who authorities said fatally shot another man and then set the victim's body on fire in December 2020 pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other criminal charges Friday in Riverhead, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

Peter Pendzinski, 24, pleaded guilty to the slaying of Nathanael  Rodriguez, 21, of Bay Shore, and is scheduled to return to Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro’s court May 17 for sentencing. He is expected to be sentenced to 18 years to life in prison, Tierney said in a statement.

“This defendant’s conduct in the commission of this murder warrants a lengthy prison time, which we will seek at the sentence,” Tierney said. 

Pendzinski’s attorney, Christopher Gioe, said the defendant accepted responsibility for his conduct during his appearance in court on Friday.

"Peter wanted to spare the victim's family any further pain of enduring a trial," Gioe said in a text message. "Peter intends on utilizing his incarceration to better himself and help other inmates from making poor choices." 

Tierney’s statement, as well as Suffolk police news releases issued in December 2020, did not include information about Pendzinski’s motive.

According to court documents and Pendzinski’s own statements in court, the defendant picked up Rodriguez at his Bay Shore home in his Mercedes-Benz at approximately 12 a.m. on Dec. 26, 2020. Shortly after Rodriguez sat down in the passenger’s seat, Pendzinski pulled out a revolver and fatally shot Rodriguez five times in the head and neck, Tierney said.

Pendzinski then drove to his home in Shirley, according to the district attorney's statement, with the deceased Rodriguez in the front seat. When he arrived at his residence, he moved Rodriguez’s body into the backyard, where he placed leaves on the remains. Pendzinski then poured gasoline on the body and set it on fire, officials said.

Suffolk police responded to the home after a 911 caller reported excess smoke coming from an open fire at the location. When officers arrived, they saw Pendzinski shoveling leaves onto an open fire. The officers asked if anyone was inside the house, and Pendzinski lied and said yes. As police attempted to enter the home, Pendzinski moved the burning body to the other side of the yard, officials said.

When officers realized what Pendzinski was doing, he was stopped and arrested, police said.

Detectives later noticed the passenger window of the Mercedes-Benz had been damaged during the shooting, and investigators found pliers, a saw and floor mats covered with blood in Pendzinski’s driveway, officials said.

Rodriguez’s DNA was found on some of the evidence, the statement said. A Smith & Wesson handgun and a can of gasoline were also recovered in a detached garage.

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