A woman who pleaded guilty to the 2001 murder of an elderly woman in West Raleigh will serve between 11 and 14 years in prison, a judge ruled Monday.
Cathy Lynne Lentini, 53, originally was charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of Beulah Dickerson, who at 91 was a slight woman with an aluminum walker.
Lentini, most recently of Cartersville, Ga., pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. A first-degree murder conviction could have carried the death penalty or a life sentence.
But Wake County Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings opted for the lesser charge in a plea deal, in part because he worried that key witnesses in the case might not satisfy a jury, he said Monday.
Investigators eyed Lentini in the original investigation of the case, naming her in search warrants. But they didn’t charge her. A search warrant made public in early 2002 indicated that investigators thought the murder weapon was a bloody tire iron, matching one missing from her vehicle.
At the time, her father told The News & Observer that Lentini was “too chicken, for one thing” to have committed murder.
Cummings and his office reviewed the evidence in recent months and re-interviewed several witnesses, producing probable cause, he said last year.
He said Monday that the evidence supported the initial, first-degree charge, but that the age of the case and the quality of the witnesses cast doubt on the outcome. Prosecutors in court linked the killing to Lentini’s reportedly drug-related debt, according to public defender Charles Caldwell.
Part of the case was based on investigators’ interviews with people who were inmates alongside Lentini, formerly known as Cathy Piper, during an earlier, unrelated prison sentence, according to Cummings. Lentini served about five months in North Carolina on embezzlement charges, according to Department of Corrections records.
“Several of the witnesses were inmates in prison that the defendant had confided in,” Cummings said. “And anytime you use a witness who has a prior history of criminal behavior, you run the risk of the jury finding them suspect.”
Asked whether he was satisfied with the sentence, he said:
“If I wouldn’t have been satisfied with it, I wouldn’t have agreed to it. I don’t think that the length of the prison sentence in any way addresses the brutal murder of Beulah Dickerson, but considering the totality of the circumstances, I felt that it was appropriate to enter into that kind of agreement.”
Judge Paul Gessner sentenced Lentini after she entered the guilty plea Monday.