NEW YORK - A construction worker who admitted strangling actress Adrienne Shelly while robbing her apartment and then hanging her body to make it look like a suicide pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter.
Diego Pillco, 20, admitted he killed Adrienne Shelly, 40, in her Manhattan flat after going through her purse. He was promised a sentence on March 6 of 25 years in prison.
State Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman said Pillco, who is from Ecuador, South America, and is in the United States illegally, is subject to immediate deportation upon release from prison.
Shelly, born Adrienne Levine, appeared in the 2005 movie "Factotum" with Matt Dillon. She made her directorial debut with "Sudden Manhattan" in 1996, and she wrote, directed and co-starred in "Waitress," which also featured Keri Russell.
With Shelly's mother, brothers, other relatives and friends present, Pillco explained to the court how he killed her on Nov. 1, 2006. His story differed considerably from the account he initially gave police.
The defendant first said he was renovating a third-floor apartment in Greenwich Village when Shelly came down and complained that he was making too much noise. Shelly used the apartment in that building as an office.
Pillco initially said she called him names, they fought and he killed her accidentally. He said he then hanged her with a bed sheet to make her death look like suicide.
On Thursday, Pillco admitted to the court that he was in fact robbing her when he killed her. He said he had eaten his lunch in the basement and was walking back up the stairs to resume working when he saw Shelly going up to her flat.
"When I saw her I decided to rob her," Pillco told the court.
He said he saw her fourth-floor apartment door was open so he stepped in and grabbed her purse.
"When I was trying to put back the purse, the lady came out of the room," Pillco said through a Spanish language interpreter. "I don't speak English, but the lady was signing that I give back her purse."
He said she went through the purse and saw something was missing and she was going to call the police.
"I took the phone from her," he said. "Out of desperation I covered her mouth. I was scared and didn't realize what was happening. I saw a sheet, and I decided to choke her."
The judge asked, "And you tied the sheet around her neck and strung her up?"
"Yes," Pillco replied, "and I made it look as if she had committed suicide."
Pillco was arrested in Brooklyn after witnesses told police they had seen him working near Shelley's apartment in the building.
"I just want to ask forgiveness from her family," the defendant said.
"I doubt if you'll get that, sir," the judge said.
Shelly's relatives didn't speak in court and declined to comment after the proceeding.
Shelly also appeared in "The Unbelievable Truth" in 1989 and "Trust" in 1990.