Kill or be killed? Ex-teacher shoots, kills ex-NYPD officer in her home
Produced by Sarah Prior, Lourdes Aguiar and Alicia Tejada
[This story originally aired on Oct. 7, 2017]
Patrick Gilhuley, a retired NYPD officer and former celebrity bodyguard, placed a series of frantic calls to his daughter Jennifer Gilhuley on March 3, 2014. He was at the Mount Olive, N.J. home of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, schoolteacher Virginia Vertetis. Within minutes of those calls, Patrick was dead.
"I heard three loud shots and I heard him say, 'Holy [expletive] she's shooting….' And the phone call went dead," Jennifer Gilhuley tearfully told a jury.
When police arrived, Patrick's body was just inside Virginia's front door. She told them she used a gun that Patrick had left under her mattress. What got them to that moment is at the center of this case.
Virginia's defense attorney Ed Bilinkas says the shooting was in self-defense. "He choked her," Bilinkas tells "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty. "He looked her straight in the eyes and said he was going to kill her."
Prosecutor Matt Troiano tells jurors, "This defendant tried to orchestrate a story to make herself look like a victim … She calls 911. And she lies."
What really happened that night? Moriarty and "48 Hours" investigate Patrick Gilhuley's death and the murder case against Virginia Vertetis and deconstruct critical forensic evidence that is a key to the prosecution's theory of what happened. Will a bullet settle who's telling the truth?
THE MURDER TRIAL BEGINS
Defense attorney Ed Bilinkas: I'm like jumping out of my skin … someone's life is in my hands… It's a tremendous weight on my shoulder."
Defense attorneys Ed Bilinkas and Sara McArdle are on edge as Virginia Vertetis' murder trial begins.
Ed Bilinkas: I can't sleep anymore. I'm literally bouncing off the walls. … If I lose, she'll spend the rest of her life in jail.
It was three years after Patrick Gilhuley was shot to death in Virginia's home in Mount Olive, New Jersey.
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: My client is not guilty. She killed Patrick Gilhuley in self-defense.
But it won't be easy for Bilinkas to prove that.
Ed Bilinkas: It's a difficult case. …There's a lot of things that we need to address.
Starting with Virginia's 911 call:
DISPATCHER: 911, where is your emergency?
VIRGINIA VERTETIS: Somebody was breaking into my house!
One of the biggest challenges for the defense is what Virginia said on that call.
Ed Bilinkas: She makes up a story. She lies.
VIRGINIA VERTETIS to 911: I didn't know who was coming into my house. I was in bed! Go look at my bed!
No one was breaking into her house on the night of March 3, 2014.
Ed Bilinkas: Big problem for her
Virginia was with Patrick Gilhuley, her on-again, off-again boyfriend of more than five years.
Ed Bilinkas: There's a legitimate reason why she did what she did.
There is only one person who can explain it:
Defense attorney Sara McArdle [in court]: How are you doing today?
Virginia Vertetis: OK. Just very nervous.
…but it's a big gamble.
Sara McArdle: It's always a risk to put a defendant on the stand.
It's even riskier because Virginia, severely depressed and anxious, is now heavily medicated.
Sara McArdle: But if you didn't put her on, the jury would never know what happened that night.
Sara McArdle [in court]: Do you still love Patrick Gilhuley?
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: Objection, Judge.
Judge: I'll allow it.
Virginia Vertetis: Yes [cries].
Their story began in 2008.
Sara McArdle [in court]: How did you meet him?
Virginia Vertetis: I met him online, Match.com.
Patrick Gilhuley was divorced and the father of two daughters. He was, says Prosecutor Matt Troiano, a complicated man.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano [in court]: Patrick Gilhuley was not perfect, ladies and gentlemen, by no means. He drank too much and too often. …But … he had a big heart. He worked hard. He was loved by his family and friends and he loved them.
Patrick was working in private security, including a stint as a bodyguard for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt after he had retired as a cop.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: it was a good relationship. …He was very attentive.
When Virginia met Patrick she had been unlucky at love -- she'd married three times in search of it. The first time she had married young and it didn't last. She'd fallen hard for husband number two, Scott Vertetis, also a police officer.
Crainie Koellhoffer(with Erin Moriarty, looking at photos): Oh, she loved him very, very much.
Virginia's mother, Crainie Koellhoffer, says when the couple's children -- Kellie and Billy -- were young, Virginia left a high-paying job at AT&T to become a teacher so she could spend more time with them.
Erin Moriarty: I mean, Virginia would do just about anything for her children, wouldn't she?
Crainie Koellhoffer: Absolutely. …She was a marvelous mother.
But she says that marriage collapsed when Scott Vertetis cheated on Virginia.
Crainie Koellhoffer: That tore her world apart, just tore her world apart. She was never the same after that.
Jim Faulkner: She had a history of abandonment from men.
Jim Faulkner was Virginia's third husband.
Jim Faulkner: I met her on Match.com.
That was in 2004, four years before Patrick Gilhuley.
Jim Faulkner: She had her Master's degree; working on her doctorate. So she was very smart, and she knew what she wanted … She wanted this perfect life, this white picket fence and the happy family.
But Faulkner says the relationship was volatile, and whenever he tried to leave Virginia begged him to come back.
Jim Faulkner: …she sent me 100 roses. …She did everything in her power to get me back. ...She said she'll do whatever it takes and we even went to therapy.
Erin Moriarty: Do you get the impression that it's very difficult for Virginia to be without a man?
Jim Faulkner: Yes. …She has to have somebody at all times.
The marriage to Faulkner didn't last either. And soon Virginia was back on Match.com.
Jim Faulkner: I saw an email that she was dating somebody.
Erin Moriarty: Patrick Gilhuley.
Jim Faulkner: Yeah.
And that relationship was also volatile.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: We broke up a lot.
Sara McArdle: How many times had you broken up over the years?
Virginia Vertetis: Countless. I can't even tell you how many.
They fought a lot she says. Patrick was unfaithful; at other times, jealous.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: He did not like me talking to other men. It made him feel humiliated.
They even fought over taxes because Patrick hadn't paid his in years. But mostly, she says, they fought about his drinking.
Crainie Koellhoffer: When he was drinking, he was terrible. He was terrible.
Virginia says there were several times when Patrick was drinking that he was violent with her.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: He pushed me down on the bed. …He shoved me into a wall …He threw me on the floor …
Crainie Koellhoffer: A couple of times, this was towards the end, I would see bruises.
Crainie Koellhoffer: They would be on her arms or her legs or whatever. And I would say, "Virginia." She goes, "Oh, I'm just clumsy."
But Virginia never reported any of these alleged incidents to police.
Erin Moriarty: But you're convinced that he was abusing her?
Crainie Koellhoffer: Oh, I am absolutely convinced that he was abusive to her.
Erin Moriarty: Why do you think then she stayed with him?
Crainie Koellhoffer: Every time I ask her those same questions, "I love him." "But," I would say. "There's no but, mom. I love him."
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: Why did she remain silent? …She had various medical issues.
Virginia struggled with an autoimmune disease. Three months before the shooting, she went on disability from her teaching job.
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: She was weak, vulnerable. …Gilhuley took advantage of that.
And the defense says there's a bigger reason Virginia didn't report anything.
Ed Bilinkas: Throughout the entire relationship, Patrick Gilhuley had thrown up in her face when he abused her, "I'm a cop. They're never going to believe you."
And that is the reason, says the defense, that Virginia panicked the night she shot Patrick and then lied about it.
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: The cops come running in …. "Get down! Get down!" …at that point in time while she's on 911 she's thinking to herself, after all the beatings over the years that he beat her what he said to her, "They're never going to believe you. " …She makes up a story. She lies.
On the stand, fighting through the haze of medications, Virginia tries to convince the jury she is now telling the truth. The couple argued that night as they had many times, she said, but this time was different.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: I never saw his eyes look like that before. …He said, "I'm gonna f------ kill you f------ c---." …I was scared to death.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: I ran up the stairs and ran into the master bedroom. …I went over to the bed, and I reached under the mattress. And I grabbed the gun. … I just kept shooting. I quickly looked. And he was still on stairs. So I just kept shooting down the stairwell.
So what led up to that horrible fight?
A few weeks before Virginia Vertetis shot and killed Patrick Gilhuley, trouble was brewing in their rocky relationship once again; this time over another woman.
Colleen Roper: She's the ex. And I'm the new. So probably, there's gonna be a disgruntle there.
Colleen Roper had been seeing Patrick and when Virginia discovered it, she wasted little time contacting her.
Colleen Roper [in court]: I was getting prank -- prank hang ups on my phone.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: Can you approximate how many prank calls you received?
Colleen Roper: Three or four.
Matt Troiano: I'd like to direct your attention to February, 4th 2014. …Do you recall whether or not you had received some communication on Facebook?
Colleen Roper: I was getting friend requests … I didn't know who this person was 'cause I'm very selective about who I'm friends with on Facebook. …So I said, "Who are you?"
Roper says Patrick had told her about Virginia, but had been less than truthful and said she was an ex-girlfriend. Believing him, Roper sent Virginia this message back:
Colleen Roper [in court]: "I'm under the impression the two of you broke up. Please, don't friend me again. I didn't do anything to you." I'm sorry [cries].
Matt Troiano: Take your time.
Colleen Roper: And she texts me back something like -- "You think sleeping with my boyfriend of six years isn't doing anything to me?" And I said, "No. Not if it's over."
Virginia's response? She told Roper she had slept with Patrick that very morning. Patrick was so angry, he broke up with Virginia via text.
Patrick Gilhuley text: We are done. So done. Wish you luck. Find someone else. You can do it. Good luck.
A week later they had another heated text exchange after Patrick accused Virginia of contacting Colleen again. Patrick left Virginia this angry voicemail:
Patrick Gilhuley voicemail: Hey psycho… Psycho woman…
Yet fighting was part of their relationship, and Virginia and Patrick kept communicating. But the defense says in the weeks before the shooting, Virginia had bigger problems on her mind than Patrick Gilhuley. She had petitioned the school board to return to work and they had voted against her.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: I was very upset. …I was ready to go back to school. And I missed the kids.
Virginia also missed her own children. KellIe was away at college and Billy, then 16, had recently decided to move in with his father. Virginia had shared her distress over her son with her therapist on March 3, the morning of the shooting.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: It was just really tough to talk about Billy. … I was heartbroken [cries].
Later that day, around 6 p.m., Virginia texted Patrick asking if he was coming over. He showed up a half hour later. Ed Bilinkas says Patrick had sex on his mind when he went over there.
Defense attorney Ed Bilinkas [in court]: He had taken Viagra, which, not based on personal experience, you're gonna find out takes a while to kick in … So it had to have been planned.
And the evidence shows that Patrick mixed it with something else that night.
Erin Moriarty: How drunk was Patrick Gilhuley on March 3, 2014?
Ed Bilinkas: ...crazy drunk
Erin Moriarty: What, almost three times the -- legal limit.
Ed Bilinkas: Three times the legal limit. Absolutely.
According to Virginia, after a failed attempt at sexual intimacy that evening, Patrick grew frustrated.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: I unzippered his pants.
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: And he kind of pushed me away and zippered up his pants and put his belt back on.
Virginia says she left Patrick sort of dozing off on the floor and went to get firewood at the 7-Eleven, but when she returned he was gone.
Ed Bilinkas: They finally -- connected on -- on a telephone call. And he was screaming at her and ranting and raving about, "Why did you leave me? You didn't tell me." And she's trying to calm him down … and she finally convinces him to come back.
Virginia says she left open the front door, and while she was in another room she heard Patrick slam and shatter the storm door, dropping glass on the mat inside.
Ed Bilinkas: When he came back to the house, he was a raving lunatic.
"48 Hours" asked Bilinkas to take us through what he says happened in the house next. Patrick eventually calmed down, Bilinkas says, but they soon started arguing again.
Ed Bilinkas: And that started the rage that, to me, was building up inside of him. She sees that. She -- she gets up. And she starts to walk away from him.
But then Virginia, says Bilinkas, made a fatal mistake and said to Patrick, "at least I pay my taxes."
Erin Moriarty: Do you think that line is what set everything off, "At least—I pay my taxes"?
Ed Bilinkas: Absolutely. …that's when he comes after her.
The defense believes that earlier that evening, Patrick had discovered an IRS form that Virginia had filled out to turn him in for unpaid taxes.
Erin Moriarty: Ed, where did the physical altercation actually take place?
Ed Bilinkas [Walking from the living room to the front door]: It started here as she was entering the foyer. He grabs her from behind … she's trying to get away. And he pushes her up against the front door. …He grabs her by the throat and starts choking her. He looks her dead in the eye and says, "I'm gonna f------ kill you, you c---."
After fighting on top of the broken glass in the foyer, Bilinkas says Virginia managed to escape and ran upstairs to her bedroom where she grabbed the gun she says Patrick had left under the mattress.
Ed Bilinkas [in the bedroom]: She reaches under. She grabs the gun. She runs out here [to the doorway]. She sticks the gun around the corner and starts firing.
The defense says Virginia, fearing for her life, shot at Patrick. The first shot missed.
Ed Bilinkas: The second shot is the shot to -- to the -- to the hand as he's reaching up maybe to try to stop or grab the gun. The next shot goes to the neck. …the third shot is the one that hit his arm. He's starting to come down [the stairs].
Ed Bilinkas: He gets shot in the back … it goes throughout outside of the chest. He's starting to collapse and his body lurches forward and that's when he gets the last shot in the back. He's fatally wounded and he collapses … And that's where he died, right here [at the bottom of the staircase].
Virginia told the jury she sat frozen in fear before walking over to him, prone on the floor.
Virginia Vertetis [in court, crying]: I sat there next to him. And I kept shaking him. "Patrick, please wake up. Please wake up." And he wasn't waking up.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: She was lying to the jury under oath.
The state contends that Virginia's story about what happened in the house that night is full of holes.
EXAMINING THE EVIDENCE
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: In my office … I keep a wall of all the people that have been killed or are the victims of some crime and it does become personal … I think it should.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano can't help becoming invested in murder cases -- especially when he believes the victim has been dragged through the mud.
Erin Moriarty: Basically her defense is blame the victim.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: Oh, yeah … And it's hard, it's a very one-sided argument, you know, because Patrick is not there to defend himself.
Prosecutor Matt Troiano [in court to Virginia]: You were angry?
Virginia Vertetis: No, not angry…
That's why Troiano felt pressure to prove to the jury that Virginia was the real aggressor that night.
Erin Moriarty: It sounds like what you're saying is Virginia Vertetis is a liar.
Matt Troiano: It's a good way to say it.
The truth, Troiano says, is that Virginia was obsessed with Patrick. She simply couldn't accept that the relationship was over.
Erin Moriarty: Why do you believe that Virginia Vertetis shot and killed Patrick Gilhuley?
Matt Troiano: Because she was having problems, you know, with … her son. She was having issues with work. And Patrick, the person that really she felt closest to … was just up and leaving her.
And the proof, he says, is in the texts sent after that February 4th break up over Colleen Roper:
Prosecutor Matt Troiano [in court]: You recall saying to him things like, "There won't be another relationship. I'll be dead first."
Virginia Vertetis: Yes.
Troiano says Virginia tried to get Patrick back by playing on his sympathy. She claimed she had Multiple Sclerosis:
Matt Troiano [in court]: At that time, did you specifically know that you had MS?
Virginia Vertetis: I specifically believed I had MS.
Matt Troiano: I understand that. But you didn't tell him that you believe you had it. You told him in fact that I do have it.
Virginia Vertetis: Yes.
But when that tactic didn't work, Troiano says Virginia tried to lure Patrick with sex:
Virginia Vertetis text: I just want ur sex
Matt Troiano [in court]: Did you ever ask him to come and say that it was just friends with benefits?
Virginia Vertetis: Yes.
By March 3, Patrick Gilhuley may finally have had enough. His friends and family say he went to Virginia's that evening to end things with her once and for all.
Paul Gilhuley | Patrick's brother [in court]: And he said to me that this is it … I can't do this anymore. ….And he also said to me that he wanted to discuss with her some tax situation.
But that testimony seems to support the defense theory and attorney Ed Bilinkas seizes on this:
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: And why would he talk about that tax situation with my client, if you know, based on your conversation?
Paul Gilhuley: On prior conversations he had told me that he was worried about Virginia talking to the IRS about a tax situation.
Bilinkas says it's more proof that it was Patrick's unpaid taxes that sparked the fatal fight.
Ed Bilinkas: He had beaten her that night … He had threatened to kill her that night.
But was there a physical fight that night at all? Matt Troiano doesn't buy it. He charges that Virginia's injuries are self-inflicted and shows the jury what he says appears to be Virginia scratching herself in the interrogation room video.
Erin Moriarty: So when the state says that she created those injuries, what do you say?
Ed Bilinkas: Bull crap, you know? …How about the injury to the throat? When did she create that?
Matt Troiano: If she did one, she did all.
Erin Moriarty: You believe that?
Matt Troiano: Patrick Gilhuley was … a big guy … if what she says is true, she would have looked beat up, really, really bad.
And if Patrick had broken the glass storm door in anger and struggled with Virginia on top of the shards of glass, why doesn't Virginia have cuts and slashes?
Matt Troiano: You know, you hear about -- essentially this death struggle that happens in the middle of this foyer. …There's no cuts from glass. There's none of that.
And Troiano says he knows why.
Matt Troiano: Patrick didn't break that glass. I don't think that the evidence supports that at all.
Troiano called forensic expert Howard Ryan to the stand to explain to the jury why Virginia's story about Patrick breaking the glass storm door couldn't be true.
Howard Ryan [in court}: This is the glass from the exterior storm door…
Howard Ryan [in court]: There's generally three types of glass we deal with … they're all going to do certain things.
For starters, Ryan says storm doors are not that easy to break. To test the state's position, "48 Hours" hired Jim Molinaro, who works with Howard Ryan at Forensic Training Source.
Erin Moriarty: So are almost all storm doors now that are used made of tempered glass?
Jim Molinaro: Yes.
Erin Moriarty: What makes tempered glass different?
Jim Molinaro: Tempered glass is stronger than regular glass … generally speaking it's about four times stronger.
Erin Moriarty: When the defendant says that she heard the door break after Patrick Gilhuley slammed it, what's your first reaction to that?
Jim Molinaro: I wouldn't expect that to happen.
Erin Moriarty: OK. Do you want to try?
Jim Molinaro: We can give it a try, yes.
Erin Moriarty: OK.
We tried slamming the door over and over again, and when that didn't work we tried kicking it. That didn't work, either.
Erin Moriarty: Do you believe the defendant when she says that door -- she heard the door break before the shooting?
Jim Molinaro: No.
Even giving Virginia the benefit of the doubt that Patrick somehow managed to break the storm door, forensics appear to disprove that, too. Howard Ryan explained that during the shooting, one of the bullets went through both the front door and the glass storm door. Emanating from the bullet hole were something called radial lines and they are telltale clues.
Howard Ryan [in court]: Radial fracture lines will only occur on the first break of the window.
Using a set of doors similar to the crime scene, "48 Hours" asked Jim Molinaro to show us what happens to an unbroken storm door when it's hit by a bullet.
Erin Moriarty: Now, you're not gonna be actually firing the gun?
Jim Molinaro: No, I'm gonna turn this over to Jeff Branyon from the Gwinnett County Police Department.
Jeff Branyon [yells]: Eyes and ears in place. Everybody behind the 15-yard line [Fires gun]
Erin Moriarty: You ready to go look?
Jim Molinaro: Let's take a look.
Erin Moriarty: Oh, my gosh.
Jim Molinaro: You can see they point directly to where the bullet perforated the glass.
Erin Moriarty: This looks almost identical to the photos introduced at evidence.
Jim Molinaro: Yes exactly, we couldn't have asked for better results.
Just to see what the bullet hole would look like if the glass was already broken—like Virginia said it was—we had Officer Branyon shoot the door again.
Erin Moriarty: But what is not here that we saw with the very first shot?
Jim Molinaro: You don't have the production of any radial fracture lines emanating out from where the bullet went through the glass.
All this is proof, the state says, that the bullet was the only thing that broke the glass that night; that Patrick never shattered it in a rage. But what do they believe happened right before the shooting?
Patrick's own daughter, Jennifer Gilhuley, says she heard everything.
Jennifer Gilhuley [in court, emotional] : I heard my dad screaming, "She's hitting me. She's hitting me. Stop. Stop."
VICTIM'S LAST WORDS
Prosecutor Matt Troiano: Jennifer was gonna be the star witness in the case.
Matt Troiano [in court]: Do you know an individual by the name of Virginia Vertetis?
Jennifer Gilhuley: I do.
Matt Troiano: And do you see Miss Vertetis in court here today?
Jennifer Gilhuley: I do.
Matt Troiano: Could you identify her, please?
Jennifer Gilhuley: She's sittin' at that table right over there.
Jennifer Gilhuley, Patrick's older daughter, was as close to an eyewitness as the prosecution had.
Matt Troiano: Jennifer I'd like to direct your attention to March 3, 2014. Do you recall that day?
Jennifer Gilhuley: [In tears] I do.
That night, Jennifer got three calls from her father in just four minutes, right before he was shot.
Jennifer Gilhuley [in court]: The first phone call when I picked up … he was screaming, "She's hitting me, she's hitting me" …and I kept hearing him screaming "stop, stop." …He called me again. …I just heard yelling. I didn't really hear words.
The phone calls prove, Troiano says, that Patrick was not attacking Virginia -- it was the other way around:
Matt Troiano: Did you communicate with your father again?
Jennifer Gilhouley [in tears]: I did. …I said, 'Dad I'm coming.' He's like,' it's too far you won't get here in time" … and the next thing I know is I heard three loud shots and I heard him say, 'Holy s---, she's shooting" … And the phone call went dead. I'm sorry. I'm sorry [overcome with with emotion].
That was the last phone call Patrick Gilhuley ever made. But he didn't just call Jennifer those three times. He also made three other phone calls to friends in those same four minutes before he was shot. Patrick's phone was later found in his pocket, which is why defense attorney Ed Bilinkas says most of those calls were actually pocket dials.
Erin Moriarty: But they go to a number of different people.
Ed Bilinkas: They go to a number of different people, but … There's no real communication between any of those calls. You know, I made three pocket dials yesterday.
Pocket dials would suggest that Patrick's hands were free to attack Virginia. The defense calls legendary pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht to buttress their case.
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: He's been involved in cases like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley …
In this case, Dr. Wecht draws the jury's attention to the wound on Patrick's right hand -- which Wecht says was caused by the first bullet to hit him.
Dr. Cyril Wecht [in court]: It was fired as Mr. Gilhuley was reaching up -- with his right hand, would fit in with that g-- grazing gunshot wound.
And that, says the defense, suggests Patrick was coming up the stairs, towards Virginia, just as she described.
Dr. Cyril Wecht [in court]: My opinion … is that Mr. Gilhuley's -- right hand was reaching up – toward -- Ms. Vertetis.
Matt Troiano: It is almost physically impossible for that to have happened that way.
Erin Moriarty: So how do you believe that Patrick sustained that bullet graze wound on his hand?
Matt Troiano: I think that he was on the phone with his daughter. He was goin' down the steps and he had the phone up to his ear. And the bullet came right past. [Troiano holds phone up to his ear to demonstrate]
But if the prosecution is right, how did Patrick's phone get back into his pocket?
Matt Troiano: I think she put it there.
Virginia did have plenty of time, Troiano points out, because she didn't call 911 for 25 minutes.
Matt Troiano [in court]: Not 25 seconds, not 2 1/2 minutes -- 25 minutes.
Virginia's explanation? She says she couldn't find her cell phone and the battery on her land line was dying. But the state believes she was really using that time to clean up and place Patrick's phone in his pocket—staging a scene that would match the lie she told police:
Virginia Vertetis' 911 call: Somebody was breaking into my house.
Police say they found her bedroom shower wet and a single pair of pink pajama pants in the washer, which was running.
Matt Troiano [in court]: Patrick Gilhuley left a .38 caliber loaded revolver underneath your mattress?
Virginia Vertetis: Yes he always had it under the mattress.
Most important, Troiano is determined to pin Virginia down on where she got the gun. She claims Patrick left it there in the spring of 2012—two years before the shooting—and it had been under her mattress ever since.
Matt Troiano: Did he leave it there because he forgot it or did he leave it there because you wanted it?
Virginia Vertetis: He left it there. He knew I was worried. He knew I didn't like being alone. When he -- when--uhm [sighs]. Oh god, I just lost my train of thought.
Sitting in the courtroom, Patrick's younger daughter, Heather, hears this and then realizes she has proof that Virginia's story can't be true. She calls the prosecutor that night after court.
Matt Troiano: I told her that … "Well, you can't just tell me this. I can't testify about it… You have to testify."
Heather Gilhuley is called to the stand:
Matt Troiano: Heather, do you recognize this photo?
Heather Gilhuley: Yes, I do.
She brings in a picture, taken when her father was still alive.
Matt Troiano: What is that a photo of?
Heather Gilhuley: That's a photo … of my father's first gun that he had when he was a cop.
Matt Troiano: And when did you take that photo?
Heather Gilhuley: August of 2012.
Matt Troiano: And do you recall where you took that photo?
Heather Gilhuley: In Staten Island at my mother's house where I was living at the time.
That puts the gun 50 miles from Virginia's house months after Virginia said she had the gun hidden under her mattress.
Ed Bilinkas: Maybe he took the gun. Maybe he cleaned it. Maybe brought it back.
But Troiano thinks she stole it. Two weeks before the shooting, cell tower data trace Virginia driving from New Jersey to Patrick's home in Staten Island—when he wasn't there. She says she never went inside.
Matt Troiano [in court]: It's your testimony that you didn't have a key to that apartment.
Virginia Vertetis: Yes.
The defense is now struggling, and Ed Bilinkas is frustrated—because the rules of evidence limit what he can tell the jury about an incident in Patrick's past.
Ed Bilinkas: He was suspended from the New York police force for beating his first wife.
Newspaper articles from 1996 tell the story of an alleged assault where Patrick Gilhuley slammed his then-wife's head against the wall and the sink. But all the jury heard was this:
Virginia Vertetis [in court]: He told me that-- at one point, he hit his wife and got in trouble with the police but … that he really just got a slap on the wrist.
Patrick was charged with misdemeanor assault and suspended without pay. The charges were later dropped.
Ed Bilinkas: Let me tell you something. If you put your hands on a woman, once, you can do it again.
But what would the jury think?
Gina Samara | Juror: We heard voicemails, we read text messages. He had a temper.
THE JURY DECIDES
As Prosecutor Matt Troiano prepared for closing arguments, he reviewed crucial evidence in the case: the storm door, Heather Gilhuley's photo of the gun and Patrick's car key fob, which was found in pieces throughout the house. Troiano thinks he knows how it got that way.
Matt Troiano: My theory is she just takes it and she breaks it herself … the way to keep him there was to break that key fob.
But it was just a theory. There were no fingerprints and no DNA on the fob, so Troiano didn't know whether he'd be able to make that argument to the jury.
But during the defense closing argument, Troiano saw his opportunity.
Defense attorney Bilinkas [in court]: Who broke the key fob?
Ed Bilinkas offered the jury his theory of how the key fob may have been broken.
Ed Bilinkas: Prosecutor's position is there was no signs of a struggle. Well, there's a broken key fob.
And that gave Prosecutor Troiano the opening he needed:
Matt Troiano [in court]: Do you know what you can't do after the key fob's broken? You can't drive your car anymore.
If Patrick couldn't use his car to leave the house, then that would explain the six calls he made in the minutes leading up to the shooting.
Matt Troiano [in court, holding up key fob]: Patrick Gilhuley would've had to call somebody to pick him up. He wasn't going anywhere if this was broken.
The defense is hoping the jury will believe that Patrick was a violent man.
Ed Bilinkas [in court]: The evidence is clear that my client was in fear of her life … If she didn't kill him, he would've killed her, period.
Erin Moriarty: Patrick Gilhuley does have at least one incident in his background. Doesn't that make you wonder if in fact … there was some kind of physical altercation with Virginia?
Matt Troiano: No, no. I will be as emphatic as I can be. No.
Matt Troiano: There was an incident with his wife a very long time ago. And that wife, who was his ex-wife at the time of the trial … sat through that trial every single day.
Matt Troiano [in court]: This is not self-defense. This is a murder.
After almost seven hours of deliberations, the jury reached a verdict.
Ed Bilinkas: I'm getting more nervous.
Matt Troiano: I was definitely not confident at all…
Judge Stephen Taylor: Madame forelady, with regard to count one … what is the verdict of the jury?
Virginia Vertetis is found guilty of first-degree murder.
Matt Troiano: I prepared them for the worst. I think that they were probably expecting the worst. So when it turns the other way … It felt good. It was emotional.
Judge Stephen Taylor: Alright ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your service in this case is now complete. I hope you found it to be a rewarding experience for you…
Patti Meudt | Juror: I felt really comfortable with you know, our decision.
"48 Hours" spoke to three of the jurors after the verdict -- John Hoover, Gina Samara and Patti Meudt.
Erin Moriarty: Did any one of the jurors believe that it was self-defense?
John Hoover: No.
PattI Meudt: No.
Erin Moriarty: Not one?
Gina Samara: No.
And they say the key fob was critical:
Erin Moriarty: Do you believe … that she broke it so he couldn't leave?
Patti Meudt: I really do. I really do. 'Cause we actually took all the pieces in the jury room --
John Hoover: And put it back together --
Patti Meudt: --and it all back together again --
Gina Samara: …it wasn't broken. It was just disassembled --
Patti Meudt: There was not one broken piece … down to the battery. Put the whole thing back together.
Erin Moriarty: And what did that say to you, Patti?
Patti Meudt: It looked like it was intentionally taken apart.
John Hoover: Not letting him get away, not lettin' him start the car and get away.
Two months after the verdict, Patrick's family addresses the judge at Virginia's sentencing:
Paul Gilhuley: My name is Paul Gilhuley, Patrick's brother … Patrick will not be there to walk his daughters Jennifer and Heather down the aisles when they marry…
One of the statements comes from the woman he allegedly attacked all those years ago -- Patrick's ex-wife, the mother of their children:
Judge Stephen Taylor: Can I get your name for the record please?
Theresa Higgins: It's Theresa Higgins and I'm reading a letter on behalf of my daughters Jennifer and Heather Gilhuley.
Theresa Higgins [reading statement in tears]: "Our father will never be able to hear us wish him another happy birthday or another Happy Father's Day … Our father will never again get to hear "I love you daddy."
Virginia Vertetis was sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Erin Moriarty: Do you think you will, at some point, see Virginia walk out of prison?
Crainie Koellhoffer: Before I die? I hope so.
Koellhoffer is helping with her daughter's appeal.
Crainie Koellhoffer [in tears]: One of the things she keeps telling me is, "Mom, don't leave me." And I hope I don't have to before she gets out.
And now Virginia, who feared abandonment, could spend the rest of her life, alone.
Virginia's daughter and son did not attend the trial or sentencing. Her mother says Virginia did not want them to see her that way.
In 2020 Virginia Vertetis' murder conviction was overturned on appeal. The appellate court concluded that the jury was improperly instructed on the state's self-defense law. In 2021 Vertetis pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated manslaughter and received a sentence of 20 years, with a 7.5 year credit for time served.
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