Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deaf man pleads guilty to killing girlfriend

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n the same week a man was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a Westland woman who had ended their relationship, a Westland man had entered a guilty plea to fatally shooting his long-time girl friend who was initiating a separation.

Under the plea agreement, Timothy Catalano pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will serve a minimum 22 years in prison for killing Tammy Susalla. He also pleaded guilty to felony firearm, which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentenced, but will receive credit for the 749 days he has been incarcerated.

“Love was the motive. She was leaving him, she had a new boyfriend,” Westland police Sgt. Steve Borisch said. “They were still living together. That was a bad mistake.”

Susalla, 44, was shot once in the head as she lay in bed around 1 a.m. Aug. 27, 2007. She and Catalano, both deaf, had been a couple for 24 years and shared a home on Gloria, near Merriman and Cherry Hill.

The couple's 19-year-old daughter and her boyfriend were in the basement of the home at the time of the shooting, but told police they hadn't heard a gunshot. The daughter told police she was awakened by her father, who said her mother was hurt and that he was leaving.

Susalla was airlifted to the University of Michigan Hospital, where she died after a day on life support. Catalano, now 46, fled to his father's home in Jackson County's Columbia Township.

“He (Catalano) told his father and his wife (Catalano's stepmother), who is a retired prison guard, that he had shot his girlfriend. They called police,” Borisch said. “A number of officers responded. He said he had shot his girlfriend in Westland.”

The plea bargain came after unsuccessful defense efforts to have the confession suppressed. The defense also sought to have Catalano found incompetent.

Following two referrals to the Center for Forensic Psychiatry, Catalano was found competent to stand trial.

“Once the motions to suppress the confession were denied by (Judge) Craig Strong, I figured he'd take a plea,” Borisch said. “He (Catalano) told the officers that he had killed her.”

While he is convinced Susalla's killing was premeditated — making it first-degree murder, which has a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole — Borisch said he is satisfied with the plea.

“It was absolutely first-degree murder, but you could get someone funny on the jury and they might not go for first degree,” Borisch said. “I talked to the family and they are at peace with it. He'll be in his 70s when, and if, he gets out.”