ROCHESTER — Three years after proclaiming his innocence in the death of his 3-year-old stepson and trying — unsuccessfully — to withdraw a guilty plea, a Seneca Falls man may get a trial after all.
In a decision filed Friday, the Rochester-based Fourth Judicial Department of state Supreme Court vacated the conviction of Donald Bovio and sent the case back to Seneca County Court.
In June 2019, Bovio was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder in the 2018 death of Panagiotis “Peter” Stephanides-Vacchino. Bovio pleaded guilty to the charge on the day his trial was supposed to begin.
He tried to withdraw the plea twice; acting county Judge Jason Cook denied those requests.
In its decision, the appeals court ruled a key element of the murder charge — a term known as depraved indifference — was not covered sufficiently by the guilty plea. The court wrote that at the time of the crime, the defendant must have an “utter disregard for the value of human life” and “not care whether the victim lived or died.”
“In response to the court’s question whether defendant did not care if harm happened to the victim or how the risk to the victim turned out, defendant stated through defense counsel that ‘he did care for the victim,’ “ the decision read.
“According to the decision, the Appellate Court did not find the judge’s plea colloquy to be sufficient,” Seneca County District Attorney Mark Sinkiewicz said Monday in an email to the Times. “There is a court appearance scheduled in July and we will see where we stand at that time. We will be prepared to try the matter if it comes to that.”
On the night of May 12, 2018, Seneca Falls police arrived at the Hunter’s Run apartments on Peterman Road and found Peter unconscious on the kitchen floor. Bovio and his wife Alison, Peter’s mother, were there.
Donald Bovio had called 911, saying the boy fell down some stairs. Police found the child unresponsive and barely breathing. He was taken to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where doctors told police the injuries were not consistent with a fall.
Peter was on life support for several days before he died.
Alison Bovio pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge as part of an agreement to cooperate in the case against her husband. She was sentenced to 4-12 years in prison in 2019.
At the time, Sinkiewicz called the case a paradox involving a “mother who watched her husband toss her child around like a rag doll.” He and Alison’s attorney, John Nabinger, said there was no evidence Alison took part in abusing Peter and she was abused as well, although she never reported it to authorities.
Police said the Bovios moved from Massachusetts to Seneca Falls about two months before Peter died, and they were married just a short time after they met on the internet. Court documents detailed the abuse of Peter, including a broken leg, being beaten with a belt, and being dropped on his head by Donald Bovio.
Rome Canzano, Bovio’s court-assigned attorney at the time, said several years ago that Bovio “asserts his absolute innocence.” When he was sentenced, Donald Bovio claimed he was pressured into pleading guilty.
“I want to go to trial,” Bovio said.