Trial Begins in Auto Shop Murder for Hire Case

A state prosecutor told a jury Thursday that a former Meriden man hatched a murder-for-hire plot that killed three people in Windsor Locks five years ago because one of the victims' wives refused to leave her husband for him.

Opening arguments were made in Hartford Superior Court in the trial of Benedetto Cipriani, 53, who pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and three counts of accessory to murder.

"This is a case that begins with an affair and ends with three murdered men," Assistant State's Attorney Robin Krawczyk told the jury.
Krawczyk said Cipriani paid three men $5,000 to kill Robert Stears, the owner of B&B Automotive in Windsor Locks whose wife had an affair with Cipriani.

On July 30, 2003, Stears, 42, his business partner Barry Rossi, 43, and mechanic Lorne Stevens, 38, were ordered to lie down on the garage floor and were all fatally shot in the back of the head, Krawczyk said.

Authorities said Cipriani fled to his native Italy days after the killings, but was arrested there in April 2004. He fought extradition to Connecticut, but three years of appeals failed and he was turned over to Connecticut state police in July 2007.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Stears' wife, Shelly, told police she had a love affair with Cipriani after meeting him over the Internet in July 2001.  She said she broke off the relationship about a year later, but Cipriani continued to call her and told her he wanted her to leave her husband and marry him, the records say.

Krawczyk told the jury Thursday that Cipriani was obsessed with Shelly Stears and became upset after she told him she didn't want to leave her husband. She said Cipriani then hired the three men to kill Robert Stears, telling them that Stears had raped a Hispanic woman.

Two of the three hired men, Jose Guzman and Erik Martinez, have pleaded guilty to murder charges and agreed to testify against Cipriani. Authorities say Guzman was the shooter.

The third man, Michael Castillo, who drove Guzman to Windsor Locks on the day of the killings, was convicted of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Krawczyk said Cipriani met Martinez after he began dating Martinez's mother, whom he also met on the Internet.

Cipriani's lawyer, Ioannis Kaloidis, told the jury, "There is no dispute that three men lost their lives at B&B Automotive on July 30, 2003."

Kaloidis said Cipriani is innocent until, and if, proven guilty by the state, and he asked jurors to consider that Guzman and Martinez are motivated to testify against Cipriani because of their plea bargains.

Guzman and Martinez had faced the possibility of the death penalty, but agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. They are expected to be sentenced to life in prison after the outcome of Cipriani's case.

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