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Wife who fell in love with hired hitman gets 25 years to life

By John Springer
Court TV

(Court TV) -- A woman who fell in love with a hitman with more muscles than brains was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Wednesday for the death of a man killed in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Lee Ann Reidel, 36, mumbled to her lawyer while Judge Louis Ohlig chastised her for continuing to maintain her innocence despite evidence that she hired, and later had a baby with, a man who was supposed to kill her husband.

"When is this charade going to end?" Ohlig asked Reidel, who stood with her hands cuffed behind her back. "Do you know how many families were affected here? How many lives were affected here?"

The hitman, Ralph Salierno, was sentenced Monday to life without parole for the January 17, 2001, shooting death of 32-year-old Alex Algeri outside a Long Island fitness center. Salierno actually intended to kill Reidel's estranged husband Paul, who was Algeri's business partner, but botched the job.

Reidel did not address the court during her sentencing. Her attorney, Bruce Barket, asked Ohlig to "tread lightly" because he was about to send a wrongly convicted person away to prison.

Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield, who prosecuted Salierno and Reidel simultaneously before separate juries, took issue with Barket's statements questioning the jury's verdict.

"Justice has been served here, your honor," Merrifield said. "She, because of her own greed and evil heart, wanted her husband dead ... This defendant is the most self-absorbed defendant I have ever prosecuted."

According to testimony, Reidel left her husband abruptly in the summer of 2000. She took their children and $120,000 of his money and moved to Florida to begin a new life.

Witnesses testified that Reidel, her mother and her mother's female lover recruited Salierno and another man to "put a beating" on Paul if he showed up in Florida to make trouble.

Paul Reidel, an ex-convict who spent six years in prison on drug charges, hired a New York lawyer and forced Lee Ann to bring their toddler son back to Long Island pending the outcome of a custody battle. At that time, the plan to scare Paul Reidel transformed into a plot to have him murdered.

Algeri, who happened to drive the same car as Paul Reidel, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Salierno shot him to death while he was retrieving music CDs from his car.

"Our brother is gone and the hole in our hearts will never be filled because of [Lee Ann's] greed and hatred of her husband," Christie Stoll, the victim's sister, told Ohlig. "Even though Lee Ann Reidel wasn't there on the night of Jan. 17, 2001, she just as well might have been. Lee Ann Reidel is just as guilty as Ralph Salierno."

Merrifield declined to comment on why she did not ask Ohlig to sentence Reidel to life in prison without a parole, an option under her first-degree murder conviction.

After the sentencing, Ohlig told Reidel he gladly would have given her a harsher sentence had the prosecutor's office asked for it.

As Reidel was led out of the courtroom, an unidentified person yelled out, "Lee Ann, we love you. You'll be home soon, sweetheart."

A relative of Algeri's yelled back "Forget it!"

Outside the courtroom Salvatore Algeri, the victim's father, said he had no quarrel with the prosecutor's recommendation of 25 years to life.

"They chose to give her a lesser sentence. Good for her," he said. "Justice has been done. She's going to serve her time. That's good with us."

During the trial, Barket portrayed Salierno as an obsessive, manipulative man and argued that he took it upon himself to kill Paul Reidel so that he could have Lee Ann all to himself.

Barket said Reidel has retained appeals counsel and that a notice of appeal had been filed.

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