QUEENSBURY — The man who shot a store clerk four times last spring during a robbery pleaded guilty to attempted murder Thursday, admitting he meant to kill the clerk and agreeing to serve up to 30 years in state prison.
Vittorio “Vito” Campano admitted he intended to kill Hague Market owner Jim Rypkema last April 25 when he shot him four times with a stolen handgun.
He agreed to a plea deal that includes a 30-year prison sentence that will be followed by 5 years on parole.
Campano, 26, of Thurman, gave a detailed account of the robbery and a home burglary that preceded it, telling Warren County Judge John Hall that he wore a bandana over his face, walked into the store after his fiancee told him there was no one else inside and pointed the gun at owner Jim Rypkema.
“He said, ‘Stop pointing that gun at me,’” Campano recalled. “I said, ‘Give me the money or I’m going to shoot.’ I went around to get money out of the register and shot him.”
Police have not said how much money was stolen from the small store on Route 8, which had just reopened for the season, but they said it was a small amount.
He told Warren County First Assistant District Attorney Matthew Burin that he intended to kill Rypkema, and “in my mind it was (justified).”
He didn’t say why he believed it was justified.
Campano told Hall that his fiancee, Christine W. Tomko, was with him in the store, and acted as lookout and as the getaway driver. She also was involved in numerous home burglaries before the robbery, during which guns and electronics were stolen.
The .22-caliber handgun used to shoot Rypkema was stolen from a home on Flat Rock Road in Lake George, one of at least five guns stolen from that home. (The guns were later recovered by State Police.)
Charges are still pending against Tomko, but she appeared in court last month for a possible plea that would have required her to cooperate against Campano. She is still weighing that offer, though it appears cooperation would no longer be needed. She would receive a sentence of between 12 and 20 years in state prison.
Campano told Hall that he suffers from schizophrenia and anxiety, but that he was willing to forgo a possible psychiatric defense for the plea deal. He had been offered an alternative deal that included a plea to attempted first-degree murder and a 20-years-to-life sentence, but he opted for the 30-year cap instead.
State Police arrested the duo two days after the shooting, focusing on them thanks to surveillance videos from homes in Hague that showed a Pontiac Vibe hatchback coming and going on Lake Shore Drive before and after the robbery. Troopers later found a car matching that description, and noted that the occupants matched the description of the robbers.
After questioning them, investigators linked Campano and Tomko to at least eight home burglaries in the weeks before the robbery.
Campano told Hall that Tomko was “as involved as I am” in the burglaries, and he said she scoped out the store before he went in.
“She went in first, then came out,” he explained. “She acknowledged there was one person in the store, the owner, and it would be a perfect time to rob the store.”
Tomko went back in to serve as a “decoy” for when Campano confronted the clerk.
Rypkema was in court for the plea, listening as Campano described the holdup and shooting in great detail. He continues to have limitations from his injuries, wearing a hand brace on his right hand.
He said he had no comment afterward pending sentencing, but was grateful that there had been a guilty plea.
Campano is being held in Warren County Jail pending sentencing on March 7. Tomko’s case has been adjourned without date.
Police said it was not clear why the duo went on a crime spree, other than a desire for money. Campano, who was unemployed, had posted on Facebook shortly before his arrest that he was in need of funds.
Campano was represented by the Warren County Public Defender’s Office, and Public Defender Marcy Flores said her office had no comment later Thursday.