A former New York City correction officer accused of killing his girlfriend's mother was ordered held without bail Monday, but a lawyer representing the Lynbrook man says his client was "set up."
Attorney Marc Gann of Mineola said Ralph Keppler, 27, was not involved in the attack that left Theresa Kiel, 56, in a vegetative state for nearly two years.
Kiel, a teacher and administrator for the Malverne school district, died Saturday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset of pneumonia that prosecutors said was a result of the Dec. 4, 2016, assault in her Long Beach apartment.
“I believe there are others who have motives to attack her,” Gann said Monday. “We’ve investigated some of those. I can’t get into detail right now. But I fully believe that Ralph is innocent of these charges.”
Keppler and his 21-year-old girlfriend Francesca Kiel — the victim’s daughter — were arrested Sunday by the Nassau County Homicide Squad and the Long Beach Police Department.
Nassau County Judge Darlene Harris ordered Keppler and Francesca Kiel, who live together on Spencer Avenue in Lynbrook, held without bail Monday during an arraignment at First District Court in Hempstead after they were charged with second-degree murder by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Keppler had been charged with attempted second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault in January and was out on bail, but prosecutors upgraded the charges to second-degree murder after Kiel died Saturday.
Theresa Kiel’s brother Michael Albano and her son Vincent Kiel attended Monday’s arraignment but declined to talk to reporters. “We are grieving,” Albano said as he left the courthouse.
Keppler is accused of beating the victim multiple times on the head with a metal dumbbell pipe, according to court records filed Sunday. Police said Theresa Kiel lost her right eye and suffered a partially collapsed cranium as a result of the attack. The court documents also say Francesca Kiel acted in concert with Keppler but do not offer any additional details.
According to a lawsuit Keppler filed in state Supreme Court in Nassau before the attack, Keppler and his family gave Theresa Kiel and her son Vincent thousands of dollars to develop a dating app but she spent the money instead on other purchases. That lawsuit, Gann said, proves his client’s innocence.
"If anything, I think that Ralph had a motive for her to live because the only way he was going to recover money that he and his family had invested was if she was alive,” Gann said.
Thomas Liotti, an attorney for Theresa Kiel and her family, denied the allegations in the lawsuit and said Keppler exerted psychological control over Francesca Kiel. He called Keppler “a dangerous man” who had repeatedly threatened Kiel family members.
Francesca Kiel’s attorney Geoffrey Prime denied that his client had played a role in her mother’s death and disputed Liotti’s claim that Keppler manipulated his client.
“Francesca seems to be in her right mind to me,” he said. “They seem to be in a healthy relationship.”