Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Staged the scene to look like a suicide in order to gain access to her credit cards
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 23, 2009
Date of arrest: 4 days after
Date of birth: 1968
Victim profile: Marie Zoppi, 74 (her mother)
Method of murder: Strangulation with a necktie
Location: Fairfield Township, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
Status: Sentenced to 40 years in prison on August 13, 2013

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Fairfield woman sentenced to 40 years in prison for murdering mother

By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger

August 13, 2013

A Fairfield woman convicted of strangling her mother with a necktie was sentenced today to 40 years in prison.

Leading up to her mother's murder, prosecutors said Tina Lunney spent her husband's $30,000 inheritance, dodged debt collectors and carried on an extramarital affair with a Fairfield police officer. Then in July 2009 when Marie Zoppi denied her daughter's demands for money, Lunney strangled the 81-year-old woman and staged the scene to look like a suicide in order to gain access to her credit cards, according to Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti, who tried the case.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Moore called Lunney's actions calculating as he described the "depravity and heinousness" of the crime.

Lunney, now 46, appeared emotionless during her sentencing, wearing green prison garb and her long wavy hair down — a striking contrast to the dark conservative suits and tightly pulled bun that was her uniform during the three-week trial.

The victim's daughter-in-law spoke out and described her family's anguish.

"It's been a nightmare. I describe it as being in a horror movie," Jeannine Zoppi said today, before the judge delivered the sentence.

Jeannine Zoppi, who described herself as a professional psychologist, said she was stunned and never saw Lunney display signs of mental illness, as the defense had argued.

"We're all traumatized," she said but added, "The family is going to heal and we hope that Tina will heal, too."

In May, a jury found Lunney guilty of first-degree murder and weapons offenses.

Simonetti said Lunney's 40 years in prison is "an adequate sentencing for the crime."

The Fairfield mother of two children faced between 30 years to life in prison, but because she had no prior record she would not receive a life sentence, according to Simonetti.

Ex-husband Chris Lunney declined to speak.

Zoppi's murder at the time was Fairfield's first homicide in roughly 20 years, said deputy chief Anthony Manna, who attended the sentencing with three other Fairfield officers.

He said he hopes the community can now "heal and get some solace."

Defense attorney Albert Kapin said he plans to appeal both the verdict and sentencing but declined to comment further.


Jury convicts Fairfield woman of strangling her mother

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 24, 2013

Tina Lunney stared straight ahead, stone-faced as a jury in Newark convicted her today of murdering her mother. She showed no reaction as the judge revoked her bail or as officers handcuffed her and removed her from the packed courtroom.

Lunney has remained impassive throughout her three-week murder trial as witness after witness pieced together a profile of a troubled middle-class suburban wife and mother whose gambling plunged her family into bankruptcy, who cheated on her husband with a local police officer and who, on the morning of July 22, 2009, took one of her husband’s neckties and strangled her mother.

The slight 45-year-old Lunney, who wore conservative suits and kept her hair slicked tightly back throughout the trial, was convicted of killing 81-year-old Marie Zoppi, apparently to gain access to Zoppi’s credit cards so she could pay off the family’s debts.

“It’s justice for Marie Zoppi ..., ” Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti said after the verdict was announced. “It was nothing less than murder and the jurors got it right today.”

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for a day and a half before returning the verdict. Lunney faces 30 years to life in prison when she is sentenced July 26 before Judge Thomas Moore, who presided over the case.

Zoppi was found dead in the Fairfield home she shared with Lunney and her husband, Chris, and the couple’s two children. Lunney confessed to the killing and to staging the scene to look like a suicide in an eerily casual and matter-of-fact 45-minute interview with police, which was played for the jury during the trial.

Her attorney, Albert Kapin, who said he plans to appeal the verdict, argued throughout the trial that the confession was false, brought on by the stresses of bankrupting her family, the guilt of having an affair with a local police officer and the shock of finding her mother dead.

A psychologist who saw Lunney in jail and later diagnosed her with bipolar disorder testified that a person in her mental state could have been delusional.

But Simonetti and Assistant Prosecutor Alex Albu presented more than a dozen witnesses who corroborated Lunney’s confession. According to phone records and text messages presented during the trial, Lunney called in late to work the day her mother was killed, telling one co-worker her mother “was acting weird, like depressed.”

Zoppi’s credit cards were used that same morning to make payments to PSE&G, collection agencies and to book a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

In the interview with police, Lunney told detectives that nothing provoked the attack, calling it “the most bizzarest thing.”

After killing her mother, Lunney dragged the body to the bedroom, locked the door and went to work. When she came home, she told her children and husband that “Nana” was out with her brother so they wouldn’t go looking for her. She then carried on for 24 hours as though nothing had happened, authorities have said.

Then, on the morning of July 23, 2009, Lunney called her husband, hysterical, and told him her mother had committed suicide. She presented him with a note she claimed her mother had written that read: “Tell the kids I love them. You don’t need me.”

Lunney disappeared the next day. Her husband, in a bizarre twist, filed a missing person’s report that morning with the Fairfield police officer with whom Lunney been having an affair.

In her three days on the lam, Lunney went to the Bloomfield library where she wrote goodbye notes to family and friends.

In one letter to her husband that was read to the jury, she says, “Things will be better now … I’m sorry I caused you this pain. Don’t be sad. Be strong for the kids. Remember (their) birthday.”

She also traveled to Atlantic City, where surveillance footage showed her at Trump Marina casino. When she returned to Fairfield, police picked her up and she immediately confessed to the murder.

Outside of the courtroom today, Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna said the verdict brought resolution to the town’s first homicide in nearly 20 years.

“The jury processed everything they were given and we got justice,” Manna said.

Zoppi’s daughter-in-law, who who attended every day of the trial, tearfully left the courtroom without commenting.

Simonetti called Lunney’s ex-husband, Chris, who still lives in Fairfield with his two teenage children. According to Simonetti, Chris Lunney’s response was, simply: “Justice was served.”


Jurors to determine fate of Fairfield woman charged with strangling mother

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 22, 2013

Tina Lunney was a woman on the brink of a breakdown, having gambled away her family’s entire savings, cheated on her husband and deceived numerous collection agencies, all the while determined to keep up appearances in her upper-middle class community, defense and prosecuting attorneys in her murder trial agree.

The question jurors must answer, however, is whether that desperation led her to strangle her 81-year-old mother with a necktie in the Fairfield home the two shared.

The three-week trial, which has played out like a scandalous daytime movie drama, ended today in Superior Court in Newark with summations from both attorneys. Deliberations are scheduled to begin tomorrow.

At the center of the case is a confession Lunney gave to police in which she admits to strangling her mother, Marie Zoppi, in July 2009. She also confesses to the crime in a suicide letter mailed to her brother and in a letter written to her husband from jail. No physical evidence pegs Lunney to the crime and investigators never conducted DNA testing on the necktie, something defense attorney Albert Kapin labeled poor police work.

Kapin has argued Lunney’s confessions were false, brought on by the stress of bankrupting her family, the guilt of carrying on an affair with a local police officer and the shock and grief of finding her mother dead. Kapin said Lunney was mentally ill and susceptible to the powers of suggestion during the 45 minute confession.

"Tina Lunney is a bad business person (and) she may even be a thief, but that doesn’t make her a killer," Kapin said in his summation yesterday.

But Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti said Lunney knew exactly what she was doing and had a clear motive when she killed her mother.

Lunney used Zoppi’s credit cards to pay off debts with PSE&G, collection agencies and Chase Bank, and to book a vacation to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

During the trial, jurors heard audio recordings of Lunney identifying herself as Marie Zoppi and, in a call to the bank on July 22, 2009, the day of the murder saying she didn’t remember her PIN number.

After her mother’s death, which Lunney initially reported to her husband and then to police as a suicide, she disappeared for three days. When police picked her up near her home on July 27, 2009, she confessed to strangling her mother and to writing the fake suicide note which read, "Tell the kids I love them. You don’t need me."

Simonetti challenged Kapin’s argument that Lunney was mentally unstable based on the details she remembered about a three-day trip to Atlantic City she has admitted taking right after her mother’s death.

"If you’re in a psychotic state, how are you capable of getting ... to Atlantic City and all the way back home?" Simonetti asked. "I don’t see it. I see a woman who was going to kill herself but didn’t."

Simonetti’s animated summation, in which she stood feet from Lunney and pointed at her numerous times as the defendant sat red-faced but impassive, ended with the question of who else would kill Zoppi.

"Are we to believe that, coincidentally, as she’s paying off all these bills with her mother’s Visa, there’s a suicide note on the couch and some stranger comes in through the window and strangles Ms. Zoppi for no reason?" Simonetti asked. "This woman took a tie from her husband’s closet and as she said in her own words, ‘I panicked, I did it, I staged it.’"


Defense: Murder confession of woman charged with killing mother doesn't fit the facts

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 22, 2013

Tina Lunney was mentally ill when she confessed to strangling her elderly mother, her attorney argued in his summation today, adding that the details she presented to police are at odds with the evidence.

Defense attorney Albert Kapin delivered his closing argument in the three-week murder trial for Lunney who is charged with killing her 81-year-old mother Marie Zoppi in the Fairfield home the two shared with Lunney's husband and two children in July 2009.

Lunney had driven the family into extreme financial debt and used her mother's credit cards to pay bills on or about the day of Zoppi's death. Prosecutors have argued the money was Lunney's motive for the killing.

But Kapin argues that the state did not conduct a full investigation into the murder, stopping instead with Lunney's confession that she gave to police three days after she initially reported her mother's death as a suicide. Investigators quickly labeled it a homicide.

No physical evidence, including the tie used to strangle Zoppi, was sent to labs for DNA testing. Zoppi's hands were bagged by members of the medical examiner's office but her fingernails were never checked for DNA trace evidence.

"They stopped at the statement," Kapin said. "And all the financial records don't prove murder. She killed the family life. They were being foreclosed. She was living a double life, having an affair, bouncing checks all over town and then she found her mother and she lost it."

Lunney disappeared for three days after Zoppi was found dead. When police found her wandering her Fairfield neighborhood they took her in for questioning again. This time she admitted to the killing.

But Kapin said it was a false confession Lunney gave brought on by stress, grief and mental illness. A psychiatrist who saw Lunney in the jail testified yesterday that she was later diagnosed as bipolar and given anti-psychotic medications.

In her statement Lunney says she was applying cream to her mother's neck when she grabbed a tie and started strangling her. She says the killing happened in the living room and then she dragged the body to the bedroom.

There was no evidence of cream found on Zoppi's neck and the medical examiner testified there was no evidence the body was dragged.

Zoppi also suffered six broken ribs before dying but Lunney, who tells police in the interview that she only strangled her.

"When you don't have a memory of something happening, that's when you guess," Kapin said. "It didn't happen when she said, it didn't happen the way she said, she never said why. She didn't do it."


Fairfield woman told police she strangled mother with necktie

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 16, 2013

Nothing precipitated the attack, Tina Lunney told investigators. She was in the living room of her Fairfield home, she said, applying lotion to a rash on her mother’s neck when she grabbed her husband’s necktie from an end table and strangled the 81-year-old woman.

"I just picked it up," Lunney says in the videotaped confession played for jurors yesterday during her murder trial in Newark. "She was like, gasping, or whatever, on her knees."

"What were you thinking as you were doing that?" Detective Robert Pracher of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office asks.

"I can’t believe I’m doing this. What am I doing?" Lunney replies.

"Why not stop?" Pracher asks.

"I don’t know. I should have," Lunney answers.

Jurors watched the candid and eerily breezy 45-minute tape with rapt attention as Lunney admits to killing Marie Zoppi on July 22, 2009. Lunney, who watched the tape impassively, initially told police her mother had committed suicide.

Lunney, 45, disappeared for three days after Zoppi’s body was discovered on July 23, 2009, in the split level home mother and daughter shared with Lunney’s husband and two children. When detectives found Lunney wandering around her Fairfield neighborhood and brought her to the prosecutor’s office, she immediately confessed, authorities have said.

But her attorney, Albert Kapin, has argued his client gave a false confession, brought on by the stress of bankrupting her family, hiding an affair from her husband and discovering her mother’s body.

Kapin has also said that during the taped interview, Lunney was exhibiting signs of her later-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

On the tape, Lunney answers detectives questions at rapid speed, smiling and appearing at ease, her head resting on her hand.

Prosecutors say Lunney’s motive was her mother’s money. Zoppi’s credit cards were used to pay off some of the famiy’s debt the day of her death, according to previous testimony.

Lunney told police that after strangling her mother, she dragged the woman’s body into a first-floor bedroom, the necktie still around her throat. She left the body on the floor next to the bed, then left the room, locking the doors behind her, before heading off to work.

She returned home that evening and told her children and husband that her brother had taken Zoppi out, so they wouldn’t go looking for her.

Kapin argues Lunney’s confessoin is not credible because she was delusional before and during the confession. She thought her mother was with her during her three-day disappearance in which she took a bus to Atlantic City. He also says there’s no physical evidence the woman was killed in the living room and dragged to the bedroom, as Lunney contends in the statement.

Nothing from the home, including the necktie or Lunney’s clothing, was sent for DNA testing.

Kapin said Lunney’s diminished mental state is evident based on goodbye letters she left behind for family.

In one letter, Lunney tells her husband, "I didn’t gamble only $10" and instructs him to file for Social Security and food stamps and to send her death certificate to the credit card companies so he won’t have to pay the bills.

To her son she writes: "Mommy was sick. I’m happy now with Nana. I’m watching you. You know I love you so much. Try out for basketball and softball again. Love, Mom."

Kapin has said Lunney’s mental instability is also evident in the way she ended her interview with detectives.

After confessing to the murder, she asks in a matter-of-fact way, "Can I go home now?"


Husband reads letter to jurors where wife confesses to murdering her mother

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 08, 2013

With the letter shaking in his right hand, Chris Lunney read the words his ex-wife wrote to him from prison, months after being charged with her mother's murder.

"I took some pills. I wrote goodbye letters because when I realized what I did, I wanted to kill myself," the letter read.

Tina Lunney, 45, is charged with strangling her 81-year-old mother, Marie Zoppi with a necktie, in the home the two shared with her husband, Chris Lunney and their two children. The state says Tina Lunney staged the scene to look like a suicide, then used the elderly woman's credit cards to pay off debts and book a family vacation to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Lunney's defense attorney, Albert Kapin, says Lunney did not kill her mother and that she confessed because of the stress she was under because of the financial destruction she'd wrought. He also suggested Lunney was mentally ill and on anti-psychotic medication when she wrote the letter from prison.

"I was worried about bills. Felt bad lying to you. It was a lot of pressure and I snapped. God forbid it was one of the kids," the letter read.

In an emotional afternoon of testimony today in Newark, Chris Lunney described a marriage which appeared happy but was, in reality, marred with secrets that surfaced after Zoppi's death.

His wife had exhausted a $30,000 inheritance left to him by his father, failed to pay electric bills and the mortgage and ignored collection agencies. Chris Lunney testified that he suspected his wife had gambled it all away.

After Zoppi's death, Lunney discovered his wife had also been having a 5-year affair with a local police officer, he said.

In a strange twist, the Fairfield officer turned out to be the same one with whom Chris Lunney filed a missing persons report when his wife went missing the morning after Zoppi's death.

"I thought I had a great marriage. My wife would always tell me she loved me. I'd tell her how much I loved her," Lunney testified, using a tissue to brush away tears. "She'd tell me how lucky she was to have me."

According to testimony Tina Lunney called her husband at around 9 a.m. July 23, 2009, and told him to come home. When he arrived, he said, his wife was hysterical and handed him a suicide note she suggested was written by her mother and which read, "Tell the kids I love them. You don't need me anymore."

But a medical examiner testified that although Zoppi died of strangulation, she also suffered five broken ribs, suggesting her death was not a suicide.

On cross-examination, Kapin asked Lunney if his wife exhibited any signs of instability in the weeks leading up to Zoppi's death. Lunney said there were isolated incidents that struck him as strange — she appeared to have stopped showering, she programmed the car radio to play "soothing elevator music" and she left a full coffee cup in the cupboard.

The morning after Zoppi's death, Tina Lunney disappeared. She wandered around for days until police found her and questioned her again. This time she confessed to the crime.

"I flipped and didn't realize I did it. I did it, panicked, then covered it up. I confessed everything to the police. When I was riding the bus my mother was with me," the letter read.


Prosecutor: Fairfield woman killed mother, 81, staged it to look like a suicide

By Julia Terruso/The Star-Ledger

May 07, 2013

The note found in the bedroom read: “Tell the kids I love them. You don’t need me anymore.”

Nearby an 81-year-old woman lay face down, blood and vomit spilling out of her mouth, a necktie wrapped tightly against her throat.

Prosecutors say what looked like a suicide was actually a murder committed by the victim’s daughter, 35-year-old Tina Lunney, who strangled her mother and then staged the scene.

Lunney is charged with killing Marie Zoppi in July 2009 in the split-level Cole Road home in Fairfield that the two shared with Lunney’s husband and two pre-teenage children.

he trial, which began today in Superior Court in Newark, focuses on Lunney’s alleged motive — that she’d dug her family into a crater of debt, according to prosecutors. They say within 24 hours of Zoppi’s death, the elderly woman’s credit card was used to pay off Lunney’s electric bill, a collection agency, and to book a vacation to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“It’s all about the vacation. It’s all about certain financial things. The evidence will show Ms. Lunney purposefully and knowingly murdered her mother,” Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti told jurors in her opening statement today.

Lunney, a slight woman dressed in a conservative suit, her hair pulled back tightly in a bun, wiped tears from her eyes during the opening of the trial. She diverted her eyes to the floor when attorneys showed blown up photos of the victim.

Defense Attorney Albert Kapin countered that Lunney did not kill her mother and that Zoppi either committed suicide or was killed by someone else.

Lunney initially told police she found her mother on the floor of the bedroom, unresponsive. About noon the next day, Lunney disappeared and her family reported her missing. Police discovered her walking in the neighborhood and questioned her again.

This time, they said, she admitted to killing her mother.

But Kapin told jurors Lunney was a woman on edge who gave a false confession, prompted by delusions and hallucinations brought on by the stress of finding her deceased mother.

Lunney had come unraveled, Kapin said, by an incessant need to keep up with the Joneses; even when she was three months behind on her mortgage. She was addicted to shopping and exhausted her husband’s $30,000 inheritance. In addition to the financial woes, guilt over a five-year affair she was having with a local police officer affected her mental state, Kapin said.

“Her circuits were overloaded. The stresses began to add up. The guilt of the affair began to add up. She was susceptible to the powers of suggestion,” Kapin said of the confession.

With no DNA pegging Lunney to her mother’s death, jurors will have to weigh the credibility of Lunney’s taped confession against medical testimony alleging she was mentally ill at the time of the statement.

The trial, which opened with crime scene detectives, resumes Wednesday in Judge Thomas Moore’s courtroom.


Fairfield woman pleads not guilty to strangling mom

By Nic Corbett - The Star-Ledger

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Fairfield woman accused of strangling her mother with a necktie pleaded not guilty to the charges yesterday in a Newark courtroom.

Tina Lunney, 41, who continues to be held in the Essex County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail, had a first appearance in Superior Court in Newark on charges of murder, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

She appeared before Judge Peter J. Vazquez represented by a public defender. She wore a black hooded sweat shirt with the words "Class of 2011" on the front and had her brown, curly hair loose. When the judge asked if she understood the charges against her, she softly answered in the affirmative. Lunney remained silent through the rest of the proceeding, nodding or shaking her head to the judge's procedural questions.

Lunney's mother, Marie Zoppi, was found last week unconscious on the floor of her bedroom on the lower level of the family's home on Cole Road. Lunney's husband, Christopher, had made the 911 call. A medical examiner later determined Zoppi had been strangled. Zoppi lived there with the Lunneys and her two grandchildren.

About noon the next day, Tina Lunney's family reported her missing. Almost three days later, a resident spotted her walking within a half-mile of her home and alerted the authorities.

Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti said Lunney made a statement to police after her arrest. It's still unclear where she was hiding, but authorities don't believe anyone was helping her, Simonetti said.

If she makes bail, as a condition of her release, Lunney must surrender her passport, the judge said.


Fairfield police arrest Tina Lunney, daughter of Cole Road murder victim

By Jean Norton-Torjussen -

July 27, 2009

FAIRFIELD TWP. - Tina Lunney, 41, of 20 Cole Road was arrested this morning and charged with the murder of her mother, Marie Zoppi, 74, of the same address, said Deputy Chief Steven Gutkin. "Lunney was located walking on Long Acres Road in Fairfield at approximately 4:30 a.m. today," said Gutkin Monday morning. She has subsequently been arrested and charged with murder, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, said police.

The Essex County Prosecutor's Office Homicide Squad and the Fairfield Police Department have been actively investigating a homicide that occurred Thursday, July 23, at 20 Cole Road. The victim was identified as Zoppi. Fairfield Police were dispatched to the residence at about 9:20 a.m. on Thursday, July 23 when a male called 9-1-1 reporting that the victim was found unconscious on the floor of her bedroom on the lower level of the house, said Gutkin.

When police arrived they discovered that the victim was unresponsive. The victim lived in the home with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. An autopsy, conducted by the Regional Medical Examiner's Office, determined that the cause of death was strangulation. Investigators had been searching for Tina Lunney since she was reported missing by family members on Friday, July 24. Lunney is being held at the Essex County Jail in Newark pending a bail hearing.



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