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CT man, 71, gets 8 years in prison for stabbing woman in Branford motel

New Haven Register logo New Haven Register 8/14/2020 By Randall Beach
a traffic light sitting below a tall building: New Haven Superior Court on the corner of Wall and Church Street in New Haven photographed in May, 2020. © Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo

New Haven Superior Court on the corner of Wall and Church Street in New Haven photographed in May, 2020.

NEW HAVEN - John Ginnetti was sentenced Friday to serve eight years in prison for repeatedly stabbing and then trying to smother a woman after they had consensual sex at a motel in Branford.

Ginnetti, 71, who had lived in Madison, avoided receiving the maximum sentence, 20 years, for first-degree assault after he apologized to the victim in court and said being incarcerated while awaiting sentencing has finally allowed him to be sober.

But the victim, who during the hearing read a statement describing the lingering trauma of the November 2018 attack, had asked for the full 20 years to be imposed.

Superior Court Judge Elpedio N. Vitale, who presided over the jury trial last January, said that in deciding on a lesser sentence he took into account Ginnetti’s advanced age, lack of prior violent offenses, history of depression and his courtroom statement.

“However, the victim sustained serious injuries and her psychological trauma is understandable,” Vitale added. “The damage appears to be long-lasting.”

Vitale outlined the narrative of the case. He said that on the day of the assault, “The defendant and the victim went to Motel 6 in Branford for what would become a sexual rendezvous.”

Vitale noted both of them were about 70 and had been involved in a consensual sexual relationship. The victim was married, Vitale said.

“Shortly before their Nov. 8 liaison, the victim informed the defendant she would not leave her husband and would not rent an apartment with him,” Vitale added. “The defendant was very unhappy with that news.”

Vitale cited the victim’s testimony during the trial that she had agreed to meet with Ginnetti that day because he had told her they would be getting together with another person who could help her with her poetry. But instead Ginnetti drove her to the motel. There was nobody waiting to help her write better poetry.

But she acknowledged she and Ginnetti did then have consensual sex in the motel room.

However, after that, Vitale said, “The defendant bound her in duct tape, stabbed her in the neck, tried to smother her with a pillow and punched her in the nose. She fought back, managed to flee the room and sought help at the front desk.”

Meanwhile, Vitale said, Ginnetti “fled the room without calling 911. He was subdued by police in the parking lot. He was drinking from what appeared to be a bottle of vodka while sitting in his truck.”

Vitale noted the victim sustained three stab wounds to her neck, bruises around her eyes and a fractured nose. She spent four days in the hospital.

Assistant State’s Attorney Reed Durham said during the sentencing hearing that the victim lost “a substantial amount of blood. She was very lucky she didn’t bleed to death.”

The victim began her written statement by quoting from a book on how trauma might be healed: “Trauma is not cured as a narrative with an orderly beginning, middle and an end.”

She recalled that during the trial, “I described the brutal and savage attack.”

The victim called Ginnetti “a puppeteer” who “sought to place the blame on all around him.”

“I feel profound sadness when I reflect on that day,” she said. “Why did I expend energy on problem-solving with this man?”

Defense attorney Kevin Smith began his statement by saying that since Ginnetti was incarcerated on the day of the crime, he has developed health issues, including diabetes. In an apparent reference to COVID-19 problems in prisons, Smith said, “Being incarcerated places him at a higher risk.”

Smith said Ginnetti had “a life of some success that has been derailed by mental health issues and alcohol and substance abuse.”

But Smith said during incarceration, Ginnetti has “developed insight” into his problems. “He has described incarceration as a blessing of sorts.”

“The court is aware of our self-defense claims,” Smith noted. During the trial Ginnetti testified that the victim actually had attacked him with the knife because she became enraged when he told her he was leaving her for another woman. Smith has said Ginnetti did not try to smother the woman; he was holding the pillow over her wounds.

Smith told Vitale that neither Ginnetti nor the victim had offered “reliable narratives.”

Noting a first-degree assault conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, Smith said more time than that would be inappropriate. “He might not survive even that sentence.”

When Ginnetti, attired in brown prison garb and a mask, was offered a chance to speak, he addressed Vitale without written notes.

“One of the things that has bothered me since my arrest and incarceration was my inability to express to (the victim) my profound guilt, horror and shame at my actions that resulted in her injuries,” Ginnetti said. “I take full responsibility for it.”

Ginnetti said being in prison “has allowed me to be sober and to think clearly again about my life, to make amends where possible.”

He asked Vitale to “put my life into context” while imposing the sentence and to consider the “hundreds of students” he had taught.

Vitale noted Ginnetti had worked as a registered nurse until his license was revoked in 2009 because of alcohol and substance abuse. Vitale acknowledged Ginnetti also volunteered to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

However, looking back on Ginnetti’s trial testimony, Vitale told him: “Your account, frankly, was farcical. Appropriately, it was rejected by the jury. You could not explain how she incurred a fractured nose and multiple knife wounds.”

Vitale cited Ginnetti’s history of depression which “corresponded with the death of your brother, who also had substance abuse issues.”

Vitale also said that given Ginnetti’s age, it’s unlikely he would have “a capacity for future violence.”

He asked Ginnetti to stand up and then imposed a 15-year sentence, to be suspended after serving eight years, followed by three years of probation. Vitale also imposed a protective order, forbidding Ginnetti to in any way be in contact with the victim for the next 30 years.

Contact Randall Beach at randall.beach@hearstmediact.com.

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