FAIRFIELD, NJ - Tina Lunney, 46, of Fairfield, was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in New Jersey State Prison for the 2009 murder of her mother, Marie Zoppi at 20 Cole Road, Fairfield. The Essex County Prosecutor's Office had argued successfully to a jury that Lunney had used a necktie to strangle her 81-year-old mother, who for fourteen years had lived with Tina Lunney, Tina's now ex-husband, Christopher, and their two children. On the morning of her mother’s death, Lunney reportedly used the murdered woman’s credit card to pay the family’s debts at a collection agency and purchased a North Carolina vacation and then arrived late at work.
20 Cole Road, Fairfield Credit: Google Maps
Lunney was a one-time employee of Fairfield’s finance department and also worked as an administrative assistant at a local business; she has been described by friends and neighbors as a typical "soccer mom.”
Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna was at today’s sentencing along with several other Fairfield police officers. "With today's sentencing, the Fairfield Police Department is hoping it provides the Lunney and Zoppi families with some measure of solace and helps to provide some closure for our community," Manna commented.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - Murder
According to prosecutors, Tunney murdered her mother at their shared family home, locked her body in the bedroom, paid off her family's debts, showed up late at work and then told her family later that evening that Zoppi was out with a brother.
Credit: Essex County Prosecutor's Office
Thursday, July 23, 2009 - Cover-up
The following morning, Tina Lunney phoned her then husband, Christopher, who was at work and asked him to come home. When he arrived, he reportedly was met by his “hysterical” wife who led him to the body of her mother and was shown a note which read, "Tell the kids I love them. You don't need me anymore."
Christopher called Fairfield Police to inform them that Zoppi appeared to be unconscious on her bedroom floor. Police responded and determined that Zoppi was already deceased. According to the prosecutor’s office, the police found Zoppi with a necktie wrapped tightly around her throat and determined that there had been no evidence of a home invasion.
Friday, July 24, 2009 - Disappearance
By noon the next day, Tina Lunney, then 41, had been declared by police to be a “person of interest” in the case after she could not be located by family members. An autopsy determined that Zoppi died on account of strangulation and that she had also suffered five broken ribs, suggesting her death was not a suicide.
It was later alleged during the trial that Lunney had attempted to make it appear as if her mother had committed suicide, and that she had fled to Atlantic City where surveillance video reportedly showed her at the Trump Marina Casino.
Monday, July 27, 2009 - Arrest
It was after her return to Fairfield that Fairfield Police arrested Tina Lunney at 4:30 a.m. when they found her walking along Long Acres Road in Fairfield. Reportedly found on her possession were five suicide notes confessing to the crime which she had written on the back of flyers she found at the Bloomfield Library.
Long Acres Road in Fairfield Credit: Google Maps
The prosecutor’s office stated that Lunney gave police a statement admitting that she had in fact strangled her mother and they then charged her with murder, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Lunney was then taken to the Essex County Jail and her bail was set at $1 million.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - Not Guilty Plea
Lunney pleaded not-guilty to the charges in a Newark’s Superior Court before Judge Peter Vasquez.
May 7, 2013 - Trial
Lunney’s three week murder trial began in Superior Court in Newark before Judge Thomas Moore. Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti alleged that Lunney's motive for the murder was financial gain. Lunney’s defense attorney, Albert Kapin, argued however that Zoppi had either committed suicide or was killed by someone else.
At the trial, Christopher Lunney read a letter which Tina had written to him from prison. The letter detailed that after her mother’s death, Lunney had intended to kill herself after she had realized what she had done. She said that she had “snapped.” Kapin argued that Lunney had written that letter from prison when she was on anti-psychotic medication and was mentally ill.
Tina Lunney after her arrest Credit: Fairifield Police
Christopher also testified that Tina has spent all of the $30,000 inheritance which had been left to him by his father and he presumed she may have spent it gambling. He stated that, leading up to the murder, Tina had stopped showering and had exhibited other behavior which was unusual for her.
A videotaped confession of Tina Lunney speaking to police was played for the jury at her trial. On the tape she described that she had not planned the attack and instead had been in the middle of rubbing lotion on her mother’s neck rash when she grabbed one of her husband’s ties and strangled her mother. On the confession, she said that she should have stopped but didn't. After the death, according to the confession tape, Lunney pulled her mother’s body into her bedroom, with the necktie still around her neck, locked the door and then went to work. She described on tape that she then returned home from work later that evening and told her husband and children not to worry about the grandmother, she was out with family.
Kapin argued to the jury that on the confession Lunney clearly showed signs of her then undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Kapin said that there had been no physical evidence ever found of the body being killed in the livingroom and dragged to the bedroom and that Lunney was “delusional.”
The defense attorney claimed that Lunney herself had given a false confession brought about after the grief of finding her mother’s body, the stress over her family’s poverty, her own gambling addiction and the guilt over her involvement in an extramarital affair which had taken place for years. Kapin suggested that all those reasons combined to make Lunney susceptible to the power of suggestion by police.
The defense attorney demonstrated that a full investigation had never been completed by pointing out that no items had ever been sent for DNA testing including the neckite and Zoppi’s own fingernails. The medical examiner testified that no cream had been present on Zoppi’s neck and there was no evidence that the body had ever been dragged.
May 24, 2013 - Declared Guilty
After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury determined that Lunney was guilty of first-degree murder and weapons offenses. Lunney’s bail was revoked and the defense attorney, Kapin, said he had plans to appeal the verdict.
Aug. 13, 2013 - Sentencing
Tina Lunney was sentenced to 40 years in prison by Judge Thomas M. Moore in Newark; he was required to mandate that Lunney will complete 85 percent of her sentence under the provisions of New Jersey’s No Early Release Act before she can become eligible for parole. 85 percent works out to 34 years, at which time Lunney will be 81 years old, the same age, coincidentally, of her mother at the time of her death.
“One of the most striking things about this defendant is that she never showed any remorse. Even on the day of her sentencing, she tried to deceive the judge into believing she is mentally ill. All the evidence in the case pointed to the fact that this was a deprived murder of her mother to gain access to money,’’ said Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Simonetti.
Tina Lunney, of Fairfield, prior to the murder of her mother, Marie Zoppi
Credit: Fairfield Police
During her disappearance, according to prosecutors, Lunney had written suicide notes on the back of flyers she had found. To her son she had written, "Mommy was sick. I’m happy now with Nana. I’m watching you. You know I love you so much. Try out for basketball and softball again. Love, Mom."