Ex-RI cop gets life sentence in neighbor's killing

By Kelsey Abbruzzese
Associated Press Writer / June 25, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • |
Text size +

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A former police officer was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for fatally shooting his neighbor during a violent argument at a child's birthday party last year.

Nicholas Gianquitti was convicted in April of the May 2008 killing of Cranston firefighter James Pagano.

Besides the life sentence for discharging a firearm while committing a violent crime, Gianquitti was ordered to serve a consecutive 20 years in prison for second-degree murder.

"When you roam around your home, patrolling your property like a vigilante with a gun on your hip, something bad is bound to happen," Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "And it did, when in the midst of a child's birthday celebration, a neighborhood menace became a neighborhood murderer."

The two neighbors fought after children at Pagano's house for his son's birthday party accidentally hit a tennis ball into Gianquitti's car. Gianquitti cursed at them when they retrieved it.

Pagano confronted the former Providence police officer at his house and punched him in the face. Gianquitti then shot Pagano, who later died in the hospital.

Gianquitti has said he fired in self-defense, fearing for his life after Pagano hit him.

Judge Robert Krause said he was moved by letters from both sides, including one from Gianquitti's teenage daughter in support of her father.

But Krause said Gianquitti's actions following the fatal shot, and that he strapped on his holstered gun before opening the door, spoke loudly in the case. Prosecuters said Gianquitti chased Pagano down the driveway, fired a second shot that missed Pagano, and stood over Pagano while he lay in the street.

Members of Pagano's family wept in court, saying he was a dedicated family man and calling Gianquitti a coward.

"My brother was murdered over a tennis ball," said Lisa Pagano, placing a tennis ball on prosecutor William Ferland's desk. She said she is still undergoing counseling, as are the other family members who witnessed the shooting.

Jean Verdi, Pagano's younger sister, said her 7-year-old son is taking medication for severe anxiety because of the trauma of the killing. She also said her 13-year-old son, who had hit the tennis ball into Gianquitti's car, scaled two fences and hid in a neighbor's shed out of fear that Gianquitti was coming after him.

"We will heal with time, but we will never understand," Verdi said. "Our children struggle daily."

Pagano's wife Adriana said she felt a sense of relief after hearing Gianquitti's sentence.

"My only question to him, to this day, is why would you want to live on a cul-de-sac where there are children if you don't want any children near your property?" she said. "We're still baffled by that today."

Defense attorney William Devine said Gianquitti did not deserve the maximum sentence because he was a law-abiding citizen before the killing. He faced 10 years to life for the killing and the consecutive life sentence for the firearm offense.

"He did not wake up with the intent to kill his neighbor," Devine said. "We're not trying to minimize the tragedy. We're trying to put this into context."

Gianaquitti looked straight ahead as Pagano's sisters, mother, wife and daughter spoke. He then apologized to the Pagano family and to his wife and daughter, who sat sobbing behind him.

"I do not expect forgiveness," he said, tearing up when he turned to look at his family. "I am haunted by my decision each and every day."