Ed Betz  /  AP
Marie La Pinta, center, walks with her sons Anthony, left, and Lenny La Pinta, on Wednesday outside Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, N.Y.
updated 5/25/2005 10:02:58 PM ET 2005-05-26T02:02:58

A woman convicted of participating in the 1983 murder of her husband was freed from prison Wednesday after prosecutors agreed she would have been eligible for a battered wife defense if such laws had been on the books at the time.

Marie LaPinta left the Suffolk County jail beaming and gripping a bouquet of roses sent by her three grandchildren. She declined to say anything to reporters except, “Thank you.”

Freedom for the 69-year-old was especially sweet for her two sons: Anthony — who became a lawyer in part to win justice for his mother, and Lenny, a teacher who for years lobbied in vain for a pardon from Gov. George Pataki and operated, aimed at winning her freedom.

“Incredibly overwhelmed” is how Lenny LaPinta described his feelings after the court hearing.

“It’s been so long that we’ve learned to live without her around,” he said. “And now that she’s going to have the opportunity to be home with us and to see her grandchildren’s bedroom and to go into my backyard and do simple things like that, (it) is the greatest joy that we can ever feel.”

Last month, Anthony LaPinta persuaded a judge to overturn her 1984 conviction and grant her a new trial. The judge agreed that Marie LaPinta was the victim of poor legal representation two decades ago because her lawyer came from the same firm as her codefendant’s attorney.

Brother fired fatal shots
At the time, her brother, Leonardo Crociata, was convicted of murder for firing the shots that killed Michael LaPinta. Marie LaPinta was convicted after prosecutors said she assisted Crociata in disposing of the body in a landfill.

Instead of a new second-degree murder trial, however, prosecutors on Wednesday allowed LaPinta to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Because she has served far more than the minimum eight and one-third years that a conviction on that charge carries, she was set free.

She admitted hitting her husband with a baseball bat during a dispute that ended when Crociata shot him. Both sons have said their mother endured years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their father.

“She has the support of her grown sons, who lost both their father and mother to the scourge of domestic violence,” prosecutor Emily Constant said in court Wednesday. “She is no threat to society. It is time for Marie LaPinta to go home.”

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