A Melville woman slain in her home in December was choked by her heroin-addicted son-in-law when she got home early and caught him robbing her, a Suffolk prosecutor said Tuesday.
As at least 20 of Dianne Edwards' co-workers looked on, Brandon Palladino pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in a Riverhead courtroom.
Prosecutors said Palladino's DNA was found under the fingernails of his mother-in-law and his fingerprints, obtained after he was charged with heroin possession last March, were matched with those found on Edwards' jewelry box.
Edwards, 59, who managed the finances of a Huntington title company, got home early on Dec. 17 and found Palladino in her bedroom stealing jewelry, Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford said.
Palladino, 23, put her in a headlock and choked her until she died, Clifford said. "He choked her until she suffered cardiac arrest."
Palladino, who lives two blocks away with his wife, Edwards' daughter, Deanna, then went home, his face covered with scratches, Clifford said.
He told Deanna two black men attacked her mother, Clifford said. The daughter called 911. "But of course, it was too late," Clifford said.
Palladino later changed his story to say the attackers were black and Hispanic, Clifford said.
He said Palladino and his wife were estranged from Edwards. Deanna Palladino, Edwards' only child, was her mother's sole beneficiary and has withdrawn $190,000 from an account since her mother's death, Clifford said, drawing gasps from spectators.
Defense attorney Raymond Perini said his client "broke up a home invasion" and has been consistent in his account.
"Of course, his prints are in the house," Perini said. "He's been in the house."
Perini said Edwards had a rocky relationship with Palladino and her daughter, but they were not estranged and planned to have dinner that night.
Palladino, who surrendered to authorities Tuesday and was arrested, was ordered held without bail.
His supporters, including his wife, declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Edwards' colleagues at the Advantage Group, where she had worked since 1988, attended the arraignment.