A judge set bail at $700,000 on Thursday for an ex-Stanhope and Franklin woman whose conviction for murdering her ex-boyfriend in 2014 was overturned last month.
Virginia Vertetis, 57, is serving a 30-year sentence for the shooting death of her ex-boyfriend, retired New York City cop Patrick Gilhuley, then-51, during a argument in her Mount Olive home. Vertetis’ Thursday appearance is the first since the appellate court, in a 62-page decision, ordered the former Wharton elementary school teacher be given a new trial after finding issue with a jury instruction.
Vertetis, wearing a blue face mask, appeared via a video livestream from the Morris County jail on Thursday because the courts have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also present were Morris County Judge Stephen Taylor, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn and Vertetis’ attorney, Susan McCoy.
Vertetis did not speak much during her brief court appearance, and while difficult to see with a mask on, she did not appear to show emotion.
While the cash bail system was eliminated in 2017 and replaced by public safety assessments, since Vertetis was indicted under the old system, Taylor set a cash bail. The bail matched Vertetis’ original bail that was set in 2014.
McCoy argued Thursday that bail should be set closer to $50,000, although she noted that Vertetis has been jailed since her 2014 arrest and would not be able to afford it anyway. Vertetis was lodged in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union following her conviction, but was transferred to the Morris County jail in late March.
Vertetis’ next appearance is slated for May 26, which will also be held virtually. While a fall trial is anticipated, it is unlikely due to several trials being pushed back due to the coronavirus.
Appellete court orders new trial
The appellate court remanded the case back for a new trial in their March 18 decision, stating that there were “critical flaws in the jury instructions on the central issue of self-defense.”
Specifically, Vertetis, who worked as a teacher at the Marie V. Duffy Elementary School in Wharton, claimed she shot Gilhuley with his service weapon in self-defense after he had assaulted and threatened to kill her in her home. The state, then-represented by Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Troiano, argued that she shot her ex-beau out of jealousy because he dated multiple women and he wanted to end the relationship.
The month-long trial ended in a jury convicting Vertetis of first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. Troiano argued for a 50-year sentence, while Vertetis’ then-attorney Edward Bilinkas asked for the 30 years.
The appellate division stated in the decision that the jury that tried Vertetis in 2017 was given improper instructions that Vertetis had, prior to the shooting, a duty to retreat to safety during the fight in her home with Gilhuley.
Specifically, the appellate court said the state insinuated that Vertetis could have retreated in her home, barricaded herself and locked herself in a room and called for help and avoided the use of deadly force during the incident. But the obligation of a resident to retreat during an attack inside their own home was abolished in 1999 to protect domestic abuse victims.
“Without an appropriate charge a jury can take a wrong turn in its deliberations,” the appellate court stated. “We conclude the error was indeed plain error, and that it was sufficiently harmful to defendant to undermine the integrity of the jury's guilty verdict on the murder count.”
The appellate court continued: “Among other things, the flawed guidance to the jurors on self-defense principles could have affected whether she was guilty of a lesser included homicide offense, such as reckless manslaughter, rather than murder ... It unfortunately invited the jurors to ’take a wrong turn’ in their deliberations.”
Vertetis and Gilhuley had been together on and off for about six years.
The appellate division also questioned why a passion/provocation manslaughter jury charge was not considered and has asked all parties to reconsider the omission in the next trial.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.