A Long Island musician cried at his manslaughter trial Thursday as his lawyer described the moment the accused says he learned of injuries to his live-in girlfriend – a woman a prosecutor said he treated like "roadkill."
The Nassau district attorney’s office has alleged Robert Savinetti, 58, knew he had run over Lisa Miceli in August 2017 after an argument while leaving a Seaford restaurant.
Prosecutors told jurors the Melville man, from the cover band Copy Cat, then left her for dead, driving away from the scene.
But defense attorney Marc Gann told jurors during his closing argument Thursday in Nassau County Court that the death of the 44-year-old mother of two was “not a crime,” but “a tragic accident." He said Savinetti didn't realize what had happened until he got a phone call saying she had been seriously injured.
Savinetti’s Toyota RAV4 crushed Miceli to death, rupturing her heart and leaving a tire mark on her body after the couple argued after dinner at Cardoon Mediterranean restaurant about her smoking habit, prosecutors say.
They said Miceli was holding onto a door handle of the Toyota, banging on the vehicle because she wanted to get inside, when Savinetti stepped on the gas.
Savinetti then sped up before Miceli lost her grip and was pulled under the SUV, according to prosecutors.
Assistant District Attorney Tara DePalo told jurors in her closing argument that Savinetti saw Miceli running alongside the SUV after he refused to let her in, and ignored her to “teach her a lesson."
“Because of the choices that he made, Lisa Miceli is dead. Because of his choices — not hers,” she said of the fatal encounter shortly before 11 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2017.
Savinetti then left Miceli “like nothing more than roadkill,” DePalo added, questioning how the motorist couldn’t have felt his SUV drive over the woman’s 5-foot-5, 115-pound body.
But Gann apologetically tried to shift the blame for what happened onto Miceli.
The Mineola lawyer told jurors Miceli had a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.29 percent, well above the .08 percent legal threshold for intoxication. Gann also said she had been running next to the moving SUV in flip-flops, and tripped and fell under it.
“But for Lisa Miceli’s conduct, she would be alive,” he added, saying the woman’s recklessness caused her own death.
The defense attorney stressed that Savinetti didn't know he had run over Miceli and kept driving until the restaurant’s owner – who knew both parties – called him and told him to return because Miceli was lying in the road and badly hurt.
The defendant put his hand over his face, breaking down in tears, as he heard his attorney describing that conversation Thursday. The reaction sparked acting state Supreme Court Justice Terence Murphy to excuse jurors for a short recess.
But DePalo said Savinetti “knew he had no choice” but to return to the scene after the restaurant owner’s call, which told him “he was caught.”
The trial followed a different judge’s decision last year to toss some evidence against Savinetti. That included most of Savinetti’s statements to police and tests showing his blood alcohol concentration that night had been at 0.12 percent or slightly higher.
State Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti found that evidence was “fruit of his unlawful arrest,” a ruling that led to the dismissal of some charges before the trial.
Delligatti said Savinetti’s initial detention by police when he returned to the scene and his being handcuffed had “amounted to an arrest, which was required to have been supported by probable cause.”
When Savinetti first got there, police had no reason to believe he had caused Miceli’s injuries or even had been driving a vehicle, the judge found.
Prosecutors had argued police handcuffed Savinetti when he approached to prevent his entry to the crime scene as Miceli was being given CPR.
Jurors began deliberations in the case Thursday afternoon and will continue Friday.