Two days before Thanksgiving, Gregory Mitros sat at his sister and brother-in-law’s kitchen table in Manayunk and explained how he came to be charged with his wife Lynda’s murder and its aftermath.
The story starts on June 20, just after 4 p.m., when Mitros got to his couch on Markle Street and cracked open a beer. Before he took a sip, he recalls, he saw Lynda descending the steps from the second floor in pajamas.
Then, he saw the gun in her hand. When he realized that it was a make that Lynda could operate, he rushed at her. A tussle ensued on the steps.
“When I grabbed it with one hand, her other hand came up. We both had two hands on it, struggling when, boom, it just happened,” the 52-year-old Mitros explains softly but matter-of-factly as if picturing the moment that left his wife dead of a single gunshot wound to the head. “When I held her, cradled her, I knew she was gone.”
An accidental death?
He and his brother-in-law Joe Genovese both say the struggle that now leaves him charged with third-degree murder – when he called 911, Mitros said “I shot my wife” – was not only to protect himself, but to protect her.
This is because there were worries that she’d been depressed and reclusive since retiring from her job at a fishing-gear manufacturing company but “self medicated” instead of seeking outside help. Also, there were concerns – both voiced and implied, they say – that the 64-year-old woman might kill herself.
With a pretrial conference scheduled for Dec. 6, at which point the case may be scheduled for trial, they say those worries and concerns are now backed up by evidence that police and prosecutors didn’t pursue.
“Lynda would always watch all those court shows and I’d always say ‘No way that guy killed his wife,'” Mitros said of Law and Order type dramas on which cases seem stacked against the innocent. “Now I can see how that happens.”
“There are two victims here”
Only two people know what exactly happened inside the Mitros home that day, and Gregory is the only one who can tell his story.
“He’s going through a living hell,” said Genovese of Mitros who still wears a wedding band and still refers to Lynda Karlin-Mitros in the present tense. “There are two victims here.”
After his arrest that day – police say he called it a “perfect shot” on the ride to the Roundhouse, but he claimed he didn’t recall that – Mitros spent two months as the oldest guy in his Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility pod.
At an August preliminary hearing, Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarello decided to scale the offense-level back to third-degree charge – a rarity in the system – that enabled friends and family to bail him out.
Mitros is free pending trial, but he lost his wife, house, dog and job as a result. That’s taken a toll amid fear that he could very well be found guilty.
“Of course [getting convicted] is a worry,” he said last week. “There’s a fear every time one of those hearings comes up.”
“The Suicide Angle”
He says that, all along, police and prison officials treated him fairly. It’s just that he thinks investigators fixated on his words in that 911 call instead of going upstairs to see that Lynda had left her survivor death benefits, bank accounts, CD account numbers and passwords out as if they were meant to be found, which they were by a family friend the next morning.
A toxicology report from the day she died showed the victim had alcohol in her system but had only over-the-counter medications in her stomach, Genovese maintained.
According to Genovese, Lynda called a neighbor days before her death and said, “If you hear anything, don’t call 911 for 15 minutes.” The neighbor instantly went over, got into the house via a door along the alley. She said Lynda was holding a gun on the bed, and plastic had been placed on the floor and atop the mattresses.
A family friend also gave a statement saying Lynda climbed on the railing of a cruise ship several years ago and threatened to jump but was talked down.
Police and prosecutors were told about this, Genovese said, but didn’t pursue “the suicide angle” even though one homicide investigator said, “I believe this is a tragic accident.”
However, another investigator questioned the logic of leaving loaded weapons accessible in a home in which there were concerns that someone might do self-harm.
Trapped by the system
Called last week for comment about the Mitros’s concerns, ADA Zarello said, “I carefully reviewed all the evidence in this case, and third degree is the appropriate charge here.”
He also noted his taking the rare step of bringing a homicide charge down to third degree is the only reason Mitros is free, his lone restrictions being no weapons in the house, no going to bars or using any potential life-insurance money for collateral.
He’s right. Friends and family were able to raise the $15,000 necessary to free him, but now Mitros finds himself in a place where he can’t regain his job in the University of Pennsylvania utilities control center until the case is closed, and then only if he doesn’t go to prison as a convicted murderer.
One of Lynda’s two sons told Mitros that she’d mentioned suicide in the past; the other “isn’t ready to talk” to him yet, which means the accused third-degree murderer can’t see his grandkids.
For his part, Genovese chastises “the system” which traps people in a helpless limbo, without their words being heard until their day in court finally arrives months or years later.
“This is just ridiculous. It’s bad enough that he’s lost his wife, job and home,” he said. “He just wanted to get on with his life, but they just won’t even check out the possibility of suicide.”
Not interested in a deal
There’s been talk of a plea bargain, but Mitros said he isn’t inclined to pursue one.
“I’m not pleading guilty to something I didn’t do. If it works against me, it works against me,” said Mitros, who will likely pursue a trial before a judge instead of a jury. “It’s all been horrible. I lost my whole life there. Once you get caught up in the loop, it’s over. You’re just caught up in it.”