THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Man pleads guilty to 1994 Lexington murder

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / September 15, 2009

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It has been nearly 15 years since Mary Lou Sale was murdered in her Lexington apartment, but for her daughter and sister the pain is still as raw and new as if they were learning for the first time about her death.

“My only sister has been taken from me,’’ Maggie L. George wrote in a victim impact statement filed yesterday in Middlesex Superior Court, where Craig W. Conkey was sentenced after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

“She loved needlepoint, reading mystery thrillers, a good steak, cappuccino, and cigarettes; antiques, shopping, her two cats, and the East Coast,’’ George wrote. “She hated healthy food, exercise, sloppy clothes, a dirty house, and anyone who refused to balance their checkbook.’’

George and Sale’s daughter, Anne Giannangeli Larkin, submitted written statements in the case that finally ended in a Woburn courtroom where Sale’s onetime neighbor was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole.

Conkey was arrested for Sale’s killing shortly after she was found in her Massachusetts Avenue apartment on Dec. 6, 1994. She had been beaten, strangled, and sexually assaulted.

Conkey was twice convicted of first-degree murder and had both convictions overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Faced with 15-year-old evidence and a skeptical appellate court, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. agreed to a deal under which Conkey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery, rather than risk losing the prosecution completely.

“By pleading guilty, the defendant has definitively admitted his guilt for the brutal murder of Mary Lou Sale,’’ Leone said in a statement. “The victim’s family has been forced to live through two trials and nearly 15 years of uncertainty. Now, with this conviction and sentencing, the defendant is held accountable and the legal process has come to a final close.’’

According to his attorney, Bernard Grossberg of Boston, Conkey gets credit for the nearly 15 years he has spent behind bars awaiting trial and serving sentences while he waited for his successful appeals to be completed.

Technically, Grossberg said, Conkey will be eligible for his first hearing before the Parole Board in a few months, although Grossberg said it is unlikely Conkey will be given his freedom then.

The SJC tossed out Conkey’s first-degree murder convictions because they questioned whether his trials were fair, given the way judges let incriminating evidence in and excluded evidence that Conkey claimed would exonerate him.

In her impact statement, George urged public safety officials to take every possible step to keep Conkey behind bars.

Giannangeli Larkin wrote that life without her mother has been hard and that she now knows the pain will never really abate.

“Words cannot describe the loss of her presence in my life or the emotional anguish I have endured,’’ she wrote. “I have been robbed of a lifetime of memories and love by one of the most important people in my life, my mom.’’

Sale was 49 years old and an accountant who moved to Lexington in September of that year so she could be close to her daughter, who was a student at Wheaton College.

There was no connection between Sale and Conkey, who once told detectives he liked to commit break-ins when he knew someone was home.

Giannangeli Larkin wrote that she fears he will kill again. “My greatest concern is that if he is ever released, he will find another victim and put another family through the hellish nightmare that I have endured.’’

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.