WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – An elderly Pennsylvania woman convicted of poisoning her son's girlfriend with antifreeze leaving her near death deserves a new trial because of ineffective legal counsel, a judge has ruled.
Helen Galli, 84, was sentenced in 2013 to 5½ to 12 years in prison. A Luzerne County jury had convicted her of aggravated assault and reckless endangering.
Prosecutors contend the woman from Wyoming borough gave Dawn Simyan poisoned juice in 2010 because she didn't want Simyan getting between her and her son, who'd just signed a million-dollar natural gas lease. Simyan was hospitalized for weeks but has since recovered.
County Judge Fred A. Pierantoni III on Tuesday ruled that Galli's defense attorney was ineffective for not objecting to Simyan's testimony that her boyfriend said, "My mother said, 'Drink this, it will make you feel better'" before handing her an antifreeze-laced drink.
The judge ruled the statement was hearsay and should not have been admitted into evidence. A Superior Court panel earlier ruled the statement didn't unfairly tip the scales against Galli. But Pierantoni found the hearsay statement was key to the prosecution's case and should have been objected to by her attorney.
Galli's current defense attorney, Al Flori Jr., said the statement was "the crux of the prosecution's case. Without that statement — based upon my reading of the transcript — the prosecution has nothing to convict her."
Galli's trial attorney, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., didn't immediately comment on the ruling. At trial, he argued that Simyan's poisoning was a failed suicide attempt, noting that Juicy Juice and antifreeze don't mix well, so it would have been unlikely for Simyan to have been fooled into drinking the mixture.
He argued that Simyan was a heavy drinker who poisoned herself during a "drunken stupor" because she was upset about Galli's efforts to keep Simyan away from Galli's son, Victor.
Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Frank McCabe argued at trial that Helen Galli tried to kill Simyan in a bid to keep her away from her wealthy son, who owned a masonry company in addition to signing the lucrative gas lease.
Galli remains in the state women's prison in Muncy. She could remain incarcerated until her new trial.
District Attorney Stefanie Salvantis hasn't commented on the ruling, but has 30 days to appeal.