A plea deal in one of Charlotte’s most disturbing murder cases has some of the victim's family concerned, COVID-19 delays and staffing shortages are the reason the murderer didn’t end up facing a jury.
(Warning: This story contains graphic details)
What happened to Mary Collins: Only one of the four defendants has been sentenced so far
On March 28, 2020 – at the start of the statewide COVID-19 lockdown – police said Kelly Lavery and Lavi Pham lured 20-year-old Mary Collins to their NoDa apartment. Police believe Lavery, Pham and their friend Jimmy Salerno brutally attacked Collins. The autopsy reports show she was stabbed more than 133 times.
Police said Salerno called a fourth person, then 18-year-old America Diehl, whom he’d recently met on the online dating app Tinder to help clean up after the crime. Search warrants show Cascade dish detergent and pumpkin spice shower gel had reportedly been used to mask the smell of Collins' body.
According to the warrants, the four of them wrapped Saran Wrap and duct tape around Collins' body and hid her in a mattress.
In late June, the first of four defendants in the case -- Kelly Lavery -- got a plea deal in the case and was sentenced to 25-32 years in prison for the death of Collins.
'She deserves to be in prison for life': Some of Mary Collins' family is devastated by the plea deal
Mia Alderman struggles to talk about the granddaughter she raised as a daughter.
“I’m destroyed," Alderman said. "There’s no language for how I’m doing.”
Her family believes Lavery and Pham got Collins sushi in the hours before they killed her and then posted a video of the three of them together to make it seem like Collins was fine. Her family believes it is the last video of Collins before she was killed.
“What they did to Mary, what she went through ... the depravity, just the heinous horrible things they did to her, and I wasn’t there, and I couldn’t stop it," Alderman shared.
Four people were charged in the case. Lavery was the first convicted. She got a plea deal, agreeing to second-degree murder charges.
“She deserves to be in prison for life," Alderman said. "It was shocking enough when we were told there would be no death penalty."
Alderman said sitting in the courtroom listening as the deal was made was horrific.
“I remember putting my hands over my ears, trying not to hear," Alderman recounted.
Previously unreleased details of the crime also came to light during the proceedings.
“They said Mary had a leash around her neck in the bathtub, bloodied, stabbed, dog leash around her neck," Alderman shared. "There was an audible gasp in the courtroom, and we started crying."
She said that new horrific detail only made the plea deal harder to accept.
“Nobody is going to tell me that the value of Mary’s life is 25 years," Alderman said. "Mary matters more than that.”
Alderman would have preferred Lavery to spend her life in prison, but she admitted she knew a deal was going to happen. She said prosecutors warned the family due to COVID-19 backups, a staffing shortage and the growing number of accused murderers, a trial could be a long way off and a gamble.
A spokesperson for the DA’s office told WCNC Charlotte:
“Plea arrangements provide crime victims and their families a level of finality that they may not receive with a trial, particularly by avoiding the inherent uncertainties involved in the outcome of any given jury trial. Additionally, plea offers ensure that a defendant takes responsibility for their crime and is held accountable for their actions. Our office offers plea arrangements in nearly every case and has done so even before experiencing pandemic-related court closures. We currently have approximately 350 defendants facing pending homicide charges. Of those, 116 have pled not guilty and are awaiting trial.”
There are three other suspects in the case: Two are in prison, the third bonded out awaiting trial.
'I felt like I had to faint': Collins' mom reacts to the plea deal
Kasei Delpezzo, Mary Collins' mother, met with prosecutors the day before the plea deal was made, giving the family not much time to process the news they received.
“At first, we as a family were totally against it," Delpezzo said. "We wanted and still want life in prison is what we would have wanted."
Delpezzo, who spoke to WCNC Charlotte on the phone, said the DA explained if they didn't do the plea deal, there "was a possibility she could somehow get off or get less time."
“As soon as they said they were gonna do a deal, I felt like I had to faint, like I was gonna throw up," Delpezzo said.
Remembering Mary Collins
Delpezzo admitted the idea of rolling those dice, risking a lower sentence, would have been too painful to her. She called the entire situation very upsetting.
“It’s really hard to know that I didn’t have a say in getting justice for my own child who was brutally tortured and murdered, and she was the sweetest person," Delpezzo said. "It’s just so vicious to me, and I don’t even get a say. It’s a very powerless feeling.”
Delpezzo said she understands why the plea deal was made, and that while she would have preferred Lavery spend the rest of her life in prison, Delpezzo wanted to ensure Lavery at least spend 25 years in prison.
Note: WCNC instituted a new policy in March 2021 regarding the broadcast or posting of mugshots.
WCNC will only air or post a mugshot if the person has been formally charged with a crime and in a few other cases. The exceptions include: If it appears the person could be a danger to themselves or others or if they are wanted by authorities; to differentiate between people with a common name; if the photos could encourage more victims to come forward. The news-editorial leadership may also decide to use a mugshot based on the severity of the crime(s) committed and/or the level of public interest in the crime and ensuing criminal proceedings.