Long ordeal finally over for prosecutors, victim’s daughter
After the jury found Gina Albrecht guilty of manslaughter last Wednesday, the legal team that prosecuted the case paid tribute to the life of the 81-year-old victim, Indian River Shores resident George May.
It had been a long day and everyone had worked straight through lunch on the last day of the trial, so a small group headed off to May’s favorite watering hole, Kelley’s on Miracle Mile for some of their famously good sandwiches.
Gathered at a long, high-top table in the back of the dimly lit, characteristically Irish pub were people who had lived George May’s case for nearly three years. Two prosecutors – Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans and Assistant State Attorney David Dodd – plus Investigator Ed Arens. May’s daughter, Patty Corapi, and May’s best friend, Stephen Foster, were there to offer offered a toast to the man.
The pub pilgrimage was Evans’ idea, to visit a spot that was so special to George after the 5 p.m. exodus when the courthouse empties out like someone pulled a fire alarm.
It takes a tremendous amount of prep work to get ready for a trial the size, the complexity and the scope of the case surrounding May’s death and financial demise.
In addition to being convicted of manslaughter, Albrecht was also found guilty of four counts of economic crimes related to the draining of May’s resources as part of a scheme of exploitation of an old, sick man with dementia.
In the months leading up to a trial like this, every tiny aspect of the case becomes an obsession.
Names, dates, places, years-old facts and bank balances are excavated from the files, scrawled on legal pads, typed into Powerpoint presentations, organized in binders and burned into memory. Witnesses must be interviewed and re-interviewed, scheduling meetings around their work and family commitments and their travel plans.
Work days run late into the night and the attorneys’ families barely see them awake. They carry changes of clothes and essentials with them in case they can’t even get home. During the trial, Evans, who lives in Martin County, worked so many hours that he crashed in a hotel in Vero.
Dodd and his wife Chelsea became first-time parents to a baby girl three months ago, just as the crunch to get ready for trial was heating up.
Showing off photos of his pride and joy, Dodd said he had cleared his plate of pretty much everything else to devote himself to the May case.
He said he was grateful to his boss, considering the timing of the baby’s arrival, not to have any other big cases running concurrently.
Unable to join the group at Kelley’s were other members of the team who also lived the details of May’s death for nearly three years: the Town of Indian River Shores Public Safety Department officers and detectives, who were back on duty after weeks of trial preparation and several rough days of testimony and cross-examination by defense attorney Bobby Guttridge.
When the waitress came around to take the orders Corapi remembered days out on the boat with her Dad with a cooler filled with Michelob and Bud Light.
Glasses of soda and iced tea and beer were clinked around the table with and a toast was raised: “To George!”
Then something very touching and unexpected happened.
Friends of May who had been following the case filed up to the table one by one to thank the prosecutors for standing up for George and for winning his case.
They shared anecdotes about George and expressed their thoughts about the crime, about the horror of finding out that their buddy – who was so full of life – had been left to wither and die in his home, alone, from malnutrition and dehydration.
“Thank you for getting some justice for my friend,” was the comment of several who approached the table. Prosecutors had shown in court how Albrecht systematically isolated May from his friends as part of her scheme to gain control over his life and his finances.
The attorneys listened to the friends’ comments, but were very careful not to voice strong opinions or to re-hash the case with outsiders. Technically, the trial is still in the pre-sentencing phase, which will be followed by the sentencing in September. Until then, despite five guilty verdicts, the case is still very much an active one. Fortunately, ethical bounds do not prohibit gathering for what felt like a tiny Irish wake for the victim.
Corapi also overflowed with her gratitude to the legal team, who in their post-trial exhaustion still took the time to advise her on how she can begin to retrieve the multitude of personal family items confiscated in the investigation and used in the courtroom as evidence. Corapi, who bears a striking resemblance to her father, was most concerned about securing some photo albums that contain all her baby pictures.
The process, they said, could start after Albrecht’s September sentencing since release of items that were evidence and would of course require paperwork and orders from the judge.
Some of the items held by the Shores Public Safety department could possibly be released now, they said, but she’d have to check with them.
Corapi, rolling her eyes at the thought of the red tape, thanked them for the help and the advice.
Corapi asked about May’s van and was disappointed to hear that it had already been sold, as she’d hoped to give the van to Father Richard Murphy at Holy Cross Catholic Church on the barrier island, where her parents had been long-time parishioners when Catherine May was alive – before the events of the manslaughter case began.
Corapi said if it wasn’t for the generosity of the parish, she would not have been able to pay for funeral services. By the time May died, all of his money was either gone or under Albrecht’s control. She said the staff at Strunk Funeral Home was also extremely kind to her.
Sandwiches arrived in baskets lined with waxed paper, the bread, meat, chips and pickles disappearing quickly. Then it was time to close the book on the case and move on to the next crime, the next victim, the next roomful of documents and evidence.
The friends of George waved a fond good-bye as the lawyers left to get some rest, and to reconnect with their lives outside of court after heading back to he office to tie up a few last loose ends.