JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County Court Judge Richard C. Giardino told Jeffrey E. Alnutt he shows the traits of a "true psychopath" before sentencing the arsonist-murderer Thursday to a state prison term of 25 years to life.
"I've come to the conclusion there are two sides to you, Jeffrey Alnutt," the judge said before pronouncing sentence at the County Courthouse.
The 56-year-old Alnutt was convicted May 10 after a two-week County Court trial. The jury found Alnutt set a Dec. 21, 2007, fire that killed 39-year-old Debra Morris, who lived in the second-floor apartment at the 22 Park St., Gloversville, house owned by Alnutt.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Jeff Alnutt, right, speaks during his sentencing in Fulton County Court in Johnstown on Thursday. His attorney, Gerard Heckler, is standing with him.
Alnutt expressed no remorse, but he and his lawyer - Gerald Heckler - took several minutes to state why they thought the conviction should be overturned and Alnutt given a new trial. Heckler said the case was based only on circumstantial evidence, with Alnutt alleging perjury by various witnesses, including police, and a timeline that didn't match.
"They [jurors] found the evidence was overwhelming that the defendant had only a brief opportunity to commit the crime," Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira told the court.
Several Gloversville police officers attended Alnutt's sentencing.
During trial, a state fire investigator testified a dog trained to detect flammable liquids identified four spots where gasoline was found, and investigators found a red gas can melted to the floor of the Park Street house.
Ron Klug, public affairs officer for the state Insurance Department, issued a news release stating the Alnutt case was one of the most significant investigations in the 29-year history of the department's Frauds Bureau.
Giardino denied all of Heckler's motions to vacate the conviction, telling Alnutt, "This is really about Debbie Morris' life."
Sira read a victim impact statement from Morris' boyfriend, Gary Romaine.
"Jeff, you were once considered a very good friend of mine and Debbie's," Romaine wrote. "We would have done anything for such a good friend. That is why I can't ever understand why you did such a terrible thing to us ... My family and I hope you never see a day of peace, that you are left with thoughts of Debbie's horrible end and know the extreme pain and suffering you have left us with."
Alnutt already was serving a prison term of five to 15 years for a separate arson conviction stemming from a 2004 fire at an apartment house he owned on Steele Avenue in Gloversville. Alnutt's daughter, Aubrey Pagan, and son-in-law, Victor Pagan, were convicted of third-degree insurance fraud, grand larceny, reckless endangerment and conspiracy charges for that fire.
The judge also alluded to that conviction, telling Alnutt he was "willing to sacrifice your daughter" for "just following your directions" in connection with the Steele Avenue fire.
"I find that really disturbing," Giardino told the former upstate businessman.
Giardino sentenced the defendant Thursday to these concurrent years on counts he was convicted of at trial: second-degree murder - 25 years to life; second-degree arson - 25 years; second-degree manslaughter - five to 15 years; third-degree arson - five to 15 years; and second-degree reckless endangerment - time served.
The judge recounted for Alnutt a conversation after the 2007 fire in which Romaine expressed deep sorrow over the loss of his girlfriend.
"You said, 'Well, you know I lost some furniture and antiques too,'" Giardino reminded Alnutt. "That said a lot about the insight into your mindset and your character, I guess."
During one of his two chances to speak, Alnutt took exception to Giardino's "psychopath" reference. He told the judge he thought that was a prejudicial statement.
Sira issued a news release Thursday crediting a coordinated effort of various law enforcement agencies and the neighbors in the Park Street area with solving the crime and bringing the perpetrator to justice.
"The trial evidence was largely circumstantial and took months to piece together in a way the jury would be able to see the whole picture," she wrote. "I am grateful by the attention the jury paid to the case and know that Debbie's family appreciates all their dedication. Justice for Debbie has been a long time coming."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at email@example.com