YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Jurors in Hackensack today convicted Ridgefield flower salesman Thomas Battinelli of shooting his business partner in the back of the head as he sat at his desk in their Garfield shop.
Thomas Battanelli ( above, right ) looked stunned as the verdicts, which included several counts of hindering, theft and unlawful weapons possession, was returned after half a day of deliberations.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s relatives wept openly and hugged one another.
“Mr. Battanelli, please stand up,” Superior Court Judge Donald Venezia said to the convicted businessman. “Your sentence date is July 17 at 9 a.m. Bail is revoked.”
At that point his sister, who was standing in the gallery, addressed the judge.
“Your Honor,” she asked Venezia. “Is it possible to say goodbye?”
The judge replied: “You can say goodbye from where you are.”
Family members then began crying as Battanelli removed his suit jacket and Bergen County Sheriff’s officers handcuffed and led him out of courtroom.
“I thank the jury for the careful attention they gave our evidence,” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer, “and I’m very pleased that Michael Murphy got justice.”
He was portrayed by Grootenboer during the trial as a “cold, calculating … hunter” who killed Michael Murphy, his partner of 20 years, with a .22-caliber rifle in January 2010.
Murphy was on the verge of discovering that Battinelli had stolen $81,883 from him — in part, by taking payments in cash — when he was killed, she said.
Defense attorney Brian Neary insisted authorities rushed to judgment and got the wrong man — and pointed instead to one of their drivers.
Neary ( top, left ) characterized the cash transactions at G&M Wholesale Florist as “a lot more fluid, a lot more cash-oriented, based on personal relationships.”
“It’s not skimming or theft,” he told jurors. “It’s the way business is done in that industry.”
Garfield detectives and investigators from the prosecutor’s office “used a bad investigative technique” in fingering their suspect, the defense attorney added.
As a result, Neary said, “the wrong man is charged with this terrible crime, the murder of his friend.”
A delivery man for the business found Murphy’s body on Jan. 6, 2010 and “literally ran across Midland Avenue to Garfield Police headquarters across the street,” Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time.
Neary told the jurors that the driver had immigration issues and was in hot water with Murphy for a series of flat tires. Murphy had questioned him about the flats that morning before he left to take a delivery to Glen Rock, he noted.
Battinelli not only had “motive, means and opportunity” — he was the only person left in the building with Murphy when the driver and another left that morning, Grootenboer countered. After the shooting, she said, Battinelli drove across town to the City Hall on a “non-emergency errand” to buy parking passes, she said.
“By his own admission, Thomas Battinelli was the last person to see Michael Murphy,” the prosecutor said. “It didn’t take long for Battinelli, an experienced hunter, to kill his unsuspecting friend.”
A Garfield police dispatcher later testified that Battinelli was still at the City Hall when they called him to report that Murphy had been found dead.
The murder weapon was found in the walk-in refrigerator at G&M under a pile of decorative branches, Grootenboer said.
Battinelli bought the Browning .22 lever-action rifle at Ramsey Outdoor, she told jurors.
When a Garfield police sergeant found it, she said, “the trigger was in the locked back position indicating it had been fired. It had one spent .22 caliber shell casing inside, and one .22 caliber bullet.
“The bullet had a “B” stamp on the bottom of it. On January 6, 2010 when investigators searched Thomas Battinelli’s house, they found the same ammunition there.”
Subsequent testing turned up Battinelli’s right, middle fingerprint on the gun.
Neary, during closing arguments yesterday, said: “The fact it is Tom Battinelli’s gun and fingerprints isn’t proof.”
STORY / PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia
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