CORRECTION (Oct. 26, 2022, 12:16 p.m.): An alert to this story misidentified Vanessa Marcotte.
The man charged with killing a woman who disappeared in 2016 while out for a run in Princeton, Massachusetts, has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
Thirty-six-year-old Angelo Colon-Ortiz had pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the death of Vanessa Marcotte, a 27-year-old Google employee from New York. But in court on Wednesday, he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, a charge that carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
He's also pleading guilty to a charge of unarmed robbery, which carries a sentence of 20 years in prison.
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Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Tavers explained in Worcester Superior Court Wednesday that the law enforcement investigation determined Colon-Ortiz took Marcotte's cellphone by force. He also described the injuries she suffered during the attack.
"An autopsy by the chief medical examiner's office determined that Vanessa's death was caused by strangulation," Tavers said. "Her injuries included injuries to her neck, including fractures to the thyroid cartilage; blunt force trauma to her head, including a fracture to her nose' blunt force injury to her torso and extremities and thermal injuries to her body."
DNA evidence collected from her fingernails led investigators to identify Colon-Ortiz as a suspect. He was arrested in April of 2017 after a trooper with the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney's office spotted a driver and SUV that matched the description of the suspect in Marcotte's killing.
Colon-Ortiz's lawyers previously argued in their motion that DNA samples collected from their client by state police in March 2017 were obtained illegally because police did not have a warrant, because a consent form in Spanish explaining Colon-Ortiz's rights was not properly translated, and because the state police did not send a trooper with adequate Spanish translation skills to his home. In January, a judge allowed the DNA evidence collected from Colon-Ortiz to be used at trial.
Marcotte's mother, Rossana Marcotte, read her victim impact statement during the plea hearing Wednesday. She recalled the last time she saw her only child.
"One thing I remember very clearly is the smile on her face as she left to go for her walk," she said. "That is the last time I would see her lovely smile. When she smiled, I smiled. My heart was full."
Colon-Ortiz was seated just a few feet away from the podium where Marcotte spoke, with his back toward her as he faced the judge and listened through an interpreter.
"The brutal and evil actions of the defendant that day will have an everlasting effect on my life. I will never be able to experience Vanessa's future achievements in her career or personal life," Marcotte said. "I will never see her in her wedding gown. I will never have the pleasure of being a devoted grandmother to her children. And as I age, I will never be comforted or cared for by Vanessa. Lastly, the defendant robbed John and me of holding Vanessa one final time. This will never be forgotten or forgiven."
She also shared that Vanessa's father, John Marcotte, passed away on Oct. 16.
"Regardless of the medical reason stated on his death certificate, he died of a broken heart caused by his deep and endless grief," said Rossana Marcotte.
Vanessa Marcotte's uncle, Steven Therrien, also shared his victim impact statement in court.
"The plea agreement ensures that this defendant will be incarcerated for many, many years so that he can't hurt another young woman the way he hurt Vanessa, while also sparing her family, who has already suffered so much, the agony of reliving that terrible day as it unfolds in a trial," Therrien said.
"It's been a really long six years for us, and I think being in there was awful to have to relive the day," said Ashley McNiff, Vanessa Marcotte's friend and co-founder of the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation. "We're just happy that it can finally be put behind us and that we're able to just really focus now on carrying out the work that we did in Vanessa's honor for the foundation."
The Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation was established in 2017 in her honor. The organization offers workshops on violence prevention, runner safety, boundary setting and healthy relationships for individuals of all ages.
"We have workshops with Worcester County Sheriff's Office, and we're moving forward with other counties, as well. Women are coming to us, we're getting inundated with requests for self-defense workshops, and we're really excited to help promote female safety and also tackle the root cause of the issue which is objectification against women," said Caroline Tocci, Vanessa Marcotte's cousin and co-founder of the foundation.
"I think every woman deserves to be able to go for a walk on a Sunday afternoon without the fear of being murdered and I think for us, that's really what drove us to do this," said McNiff. "I know we always said if this had happened to anyone else, Vanessa would have done anything in our power that she could have to prevent it. And so that's really what we've set out to do."
Colon-Ortiz declined to make a statement. Defense attorney Eduardo Masferrer spoke on his behalf in court.
"While it is certainly understandable why Ms. Marcotte's family view him as a monster, Mr. Colon-Ortiz is a human being. He is a flawed one. He has a mother, siblings, who have offered him their love and support and were surprised by his actions," said Masferrer. "He wants them to know he is remorseful for his actions and sorry for their suffering."
Colon-Ortiz will serve the two sentences consecutively and will not be eligible for parole for 45 years.