WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A pizza delivery man accused of throwing asphalt off an overpass and killing a woman nearly a decade ago pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Tuesday.
Alberto Plasencia, 27, of Yonkers is charged with murder in the second degree in connection with the April 24, 2004, death of Maria McSweeney.
McSweeney was driving on the Sprain Brook Parkway when prosecutors said Plasencia purposely aimed and hurled hurled a chunk of asphalt from the Kimball Avenue overpass in the middle of the afternoon, CBS 2's Lou Young reported.
"Marie was a very nice woman. It could've happened to anyone that day. Anyone driving that parkway; it could've happened to them," Yonkers Police Det. John Geiss said.
McSweeney was killed when the large mass smashed through the windshield and hit her on the head. Her car careened across the parkway for about a third of a mile before crashing in the woods. Her 87-year-old mother was also in the car and survived the attack, but died two years later never knowing who might have killed her daughter. The family said Tuesday would have meant a lot to her.
"That was the one thing she wanted -- to know who did this," said Vicki Nikou, the victim's cousin.
McSweeney's family said it was difficult coming face-to-face with the suspect in court.
"I felt a little weak, but I have to do the right thing for her," cousin Christine Viento said, adding that she's not ready to pass judgment on Plasencia. "I have to hear everything. I don't want to judge."
"She was a beautiful, kind, loving, caring, give-to-the-world kind of person and that's what we can't forget and we'll never forget. She was amazing," cousin Jackie Nigrelli said.
Yonkers police chased leads and went door-to-door in an effort to find whoever hurled the asphalt. A $6,000 reward was offered and police at the time were looking for three or four 14-year-olds who were spotted throwing things from the overpass. But no arrests were made.
In 2009, though, homicide and cold case detectives got new information and reopened the case, the Westchester County District Attorney's Office said. Police would not say how they cracked the case beyond that.
Plasencia was arrested by Yonkers Cold Case detectives last month.
"Every motorist's nightmare, traveling under a roadway overpass wondering if an object will be thrown from it," District Attorney Janet DiFiore said. "This defendant did just that, throwing a large chunk of asphalt into traffic, ending the life of a 48-year-old woman as surely as if he pulled a trigger."
Plasencia's lawyer, Edward Rinaldi, said the case is built on "dubious witnesses" and that his client will be exonerated, CBS 2's Young reported.
A judge set bail at $400,000.
Plasencia's parents – a professor at St. Thomas Aquinas in Rockland County and a former employee of the inspector general's office at the Department of Education in New York City – are putting up their house as collateral, Young reported.
"He really doesn't matter," Viento said of the alleged attacker. "It's our cousin who matters."
Plasencia is due back in court on Feb. 26.
If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...
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