Milford killer gets 15 years in prison for New Haven shooting, robbery of Yale student

NEW HAVEN >> Matthew Pugh again brought his copy of the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” to court Thursday but it didn’t prevent Superior Court Judge Jon M. Alander from sentencing him to serve 15 years in prison for robbing and shooting a Yale graduate student on her first day in New Haven in 2008.

Defense attorney Thomas Farver asked Alander to make the sentence concurrent with the 60 years Pugh already is serving for murdering his former girlfriend, Alexandra Ducsay, in Milford, rather than make the new sentence consecutive.

But Alander said he needed to “send a message to others that committing armed robbery in the streets of New Haven and shooting a victim carries a significant sentence.”

Alander acknowledged the additional 15 years “could be viewed as serving no practical purpose” since Pugh is 44. “But it will serve the goal of deterrence, to discourage others” from contemplating such crimes.

Alander said he also took into consideration Pugh’s extensive criminal record. “You have a history of assaultive behavior, including the most serious of all: murder.”

Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney John Waddock described what happened that evening on Edwards Street in the city’s East Rock neighborhood.

“She was walking down the street on Aug. 21, 2008, looking for an apartment,” Waddock said. “She was approached from behind by the defendant, who demanded her handbag while displaying a handgun. There was a brief struggle over the bag.”

“He shot her in her hand, took the bag and fled, leaving her bleeding in the street,” Waddock added.

The student, who lives abroad, was not in court Thursday. But she sent Alander a victim impact statement, parts of which he read aloud during the sentencing hearing. The New Haven Register viewed the letter.

“When I first arrived in New Haven at lunchtime on Aug. 21, 2008,” she wrote, “I could never have imagined that I would spend my first evening in the city in the emergency room of Yale New Haven Hospital, with a bullet wound in my hand.”

“The man who attacked and shot me wanted my handbag,” she said. “For nothing but a handbag and the roughly $200 that was inside it, he did not hesitate to point a gun at another human being, look me straight in the eye and pull the trigger.”

She noted, “The bullet punctured my thumb, shattered several bones and came out on the other side.” She said she was so shocked she didn’t realize she had been shot “until I saw daylight through the hole in my hand and discovered I was covered in blood.”

She also recalled “screaming in uncontrollable pain in the hospital, I was told I had been very lucky. The bullet had missed a major nerve that would have deprived me of the use of my thumb. I was about to start graduate school in art and I was shot in the hand I primarily use to make my work.”

She had to wear a cast for two months and undergo physical therapy three times a week for a year.

The emotional effects were recurring nightmares and post traumatic stress syndrome. “I was terrified of walking in the street on my own and had panic attacks whenever anybody ran past me or made any strong movements. Even today, nine years later, I jump when anybody passes me quickly on the street.”

She added, “I don’t think I will ever forget being chased down on the street in an unfamiliar city or staring down the barrel of a gun.”

She recalled her assailant “was facing me with the gun pointed to my chest. If he had angled the gun a few more degrees in my direction, he could have killed me. Knowing as we do now that he had killed another woman just a year before he attacked me, makes it clear to me that he would not have hesitated to do just that.”

Before Alander imposed the sentence, Waddock urged him to make it consecutive to the murder sentence. He said a concurrent sentence “would be a disservice to the community and an injustice to (the victim). We brought this case because we felt she deserves justice. She has suffered greatly and is entitled to a sentence that does not make light of the trauma she incurred.”

Before Farver asked Alander to make the sentence concurrent, he argued his motion for having the jury’s convictions on first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and carrying a pistol without a permit overturned. He asserted there was “insufficient evidence.”

Farver also charged the New Haven police had shown “neglect” by “failing to proceed with Mr. Pugh’s arrest in a timely fashion. This was instrumental in interfering with his ability to present a defense of alibi.” Farver has said this delay made it impossible for him to obtain Pugh’s work and cell phone records.

Alander denied the motion, saying, “There clearly was sufficient evidence.” He cited eyewitness testimony by a woman who said she saw a man running away from the crime scene with a handbag. She identified Pugh as the perpetrator when police showed her a photo array.

Alander noted Pugh also was connected to the credit card stolen from the victim. A surveillance tape from the Burlington Coat Factory showed two women and a man believed to be Pugh trying to use the credit card there.

When Pugh was given a chance to speak, he read an eight-minute statement in which he said he should not have been convicted on these charges nor for the murder; he said witnesses “committed perjury” in that earlier trial.

Pugh claimed he was at work, doing a part-time job in Stratford at the time of the Edwards Street shooting. Pugh also noted trial testimony that the transfer of officers investigating his case stopped work on it for 20 months. “The delay deprived me of my constitutional rights. I could not present an alibi defense.”

“I have a moral obligation to speak up when this process is not fair,” Pugh told Alander. “I hope you take this case fairly, in my favor.”

But Alander told Pugh he saw many aggravating factors calling for a lengthy sentence and no mitigating factors. He pointed to the seriousness of the robbery and shooting and the impact on the victim.

The sentence he imposed was 15 years for first-degree robbery, 15 years for first-degree assault and one year for carrying a pistol without a permit. He made those three concurrent with each other, for a total effective sentence of 15 years to serve, while making that new sentence consecutive to the one for murder.

Pugh showed no emotion as he was sentenced and led away by judicial marshals.

Call Randall Beach at 203-680-9345.