Before Amy Fitzgerald’s body was discovered in the bathtub of her Vermont home, she had planned to travel to Texas to celebrate her husband’s college graduation in May 1993, and then carry on with starting a family.
Both natives of Newton, Mass., the couple had been living apart while each completed graduate degrees: her at the University of Vermont in health technology; him in history at the University of Texas in San Antonio. But instead, Gregory Fitzgerald was leading a bizarre double life — with two names and a 22-year-old girlfriend — and was spending his days shooting pool and carousing after being kicked out of school, court records show.
Before she could leave for Texas, her husband appeared at Amy Fitzgerald’s condo and strangled her to death. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Gregory Fitzgerald could gain his freedom before the year is up. On Jan. 12, he struck a new deal with Vermont prosecutors that reduced his sentence to 35 years to life. Importantly, the 64-year-old Fitzgerald admitted for the first time to killing his wife, prosecutors said.
With time off for good behavior, he could be released from the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., in six to nine months.
And just as abruptly, relatives of Amy Fitzgerald are wrestling with the sudden likelihood that Fitzgerald could walk free.
“I’m just completely tired and devastated, and extremely disappointed in the state’s attorney’s office with the way this matter was handled,” said her brother, Alan Zeltserman.
Where he once took comfort in believing his sister’s killer would remain in prison until his dying day, Zeltserman said he is struggling to comprehend how Gregory Fitzgerald managed to wrangle his way to freedom. He wishes prosecutors had kept him more informed as the resentencing agreement took shape.
“It’s just a horrible feeling,” said Zeltserman, who lives overseas.
Chittenden County State Attorney Sarah George said that in the face of “concerning issues” that arose in the most recent round of appeals — namely that the attorney who represented Fitzgerald in the murder trial did not know or tell him that he was facing the possibility of life without the possibility of parole — prosecutors reached a just resolution. She also said that a representative from Amy Fitzgerald’s family was kept in the loop throughout the process.
Amy and Gregory Fitzgerald married in 1987. She was an Army captain and veteran of the Persian Gulf War, a talented and generous person, Zeltserman said, who “was on her way up the ranks in the Army.”
“She went to Iraq. Her job was to keep soldiers alive. She was in charge of blood supply, that’s what she did,” he said. “Fitzgerald really stole ... a genuine asset.”
Gregory Fitzgerald stood to acquire $106,000 in military benefits upon his wife’s death. Her body was found in her bathtub three days after she was killed. Court documents indicate she died while putting up a fight. Amy Fitzgerald was 30.
Neighbors said they were awoken by screaming but didn’t call police.
A seemingly grief-stricken Gregory Fitzgerald mourned at his wife’s funeral then disappeared. The off-and-on auto mechanic quickly became the subject of an FBI manhunt. He eventually turned himself in to police.
Investigators unraveled a trail of deception to establish that Gregory Fitzgerald engaged in a “scheme involving multiple rental cars and an elaborate schedule of air travel, designed to conceal his involvement in the crime,” court records show. They also revealed that in addition to having two names, Gregory Fitzgerald had two Social Security numbers and was on academic dismissal from school.
A jury convicted Fitzgerald of first-degree murder in 1994. He quickly appealed his conviction and lost, but followed with petitions spanning more than 30 claims, from prosecutorial misconduct to ineffective assistance of counsel to sentencing errors.
In a move that will bring closure to 30 years of litigation, Fitzgerald agreed to close out all pending appeals in state and federal courts in exchange for the reduced sentence.
Before he can be released, Fitzgerald must successfully complete a six- to nine-month risk-evaluation program. He will be supervised by the Vermont Department of Corrections for the rest of his life.
When and whether Gregory Fitzgerald gets released is up to the DOC, George, the Vermont prosecutor, said.
“I know that they are not going to release somebody into our community who has been convicted of first-degree homicide unless they absolutely believe they’re low risk,” George said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “I know that isn’t comforting to the family, but as a prosecutor, I have to believe that the Department of Corrections is going to make sure that he is a safe person in our community before they put him into our community.”
The extraordinary claims that cinched and underpin Gregory Fitzgerald resentencing rest upon his trial attorney’s failures, court records show. According to court filings, Fitzgerald claims his attorney at the time, Peter Langrock, did not know or convey to Fitzgerald that he was facing the possibility of life without parole, and miscommunicated the terms of a plea deal that offered a sentence of 30 years to life.
In an interview with the Globe, Langrock said he was aware of the claims but labeled them “absurd.”
“Of course, I knew it,” said Langrock, who has been practicing law for 61 years in Vermont. “But if he says I didn’t tell him, perhaps his memory is better than mine.”
It is equally unlikely, Langrock said, that he improperly conveyed the offer prosecutors made in a plea deal.
“I don’t have a specific recollection, but the chances of me receiving an offer and not communicating it to my client are one in a thousand,” Langrock said. “But as a defense lawyer, you often have to fall onto your sword for your client.”
Zeltserman said Gregory Fitzgerald is a master manipulator who never gave up, hammered the system with appeals, and maneuvered his way out of prison.
“He’s spent his life lying and people believing him, unfortunately,” Zeltserman said. “Now, he’s gotten away with essentially first-degree murder and will be released.”
Gregory Fitzgerald’s current lawyer, Mark Furland, said his client apologized with genuine remorse, accepted responsibility, and professed to be a changed person at his Jan. 12 hearing in Vermont Superior Court.
“He’s pretty old, and he’s not in great health,” Furland said. “Despite what the family feels, I don’t think anybody really believes that he’s a threat any more to anyone.”