A bail bondsman arrested in connection with the shooting death of her boyfriend had her charges upgraded to murder Thursday, as she appeared in court for the second time in recent weeks.
Prosecutors filed the new charge against 27-year-old Angela Grasso, arguing that she could have fled at any moment if she felt her life was threatened by 23-year-old Jose Mendez.
The family of Mendez told Eyewitness News at court they were still grieving.
"It's just kind of hard. We've lost people in the past but never anyone executed, so this is difficult," said Jose's brother, Victor Mendez.
West Hartford police said Grasso shot and killed Jose Mendez during a car ride earlier this month.
She claimed he repeatedly threatened to kill her and her family. When they drove past a Wendy's restaurant on Prospect Avenue in Hartford, she said that was her only opportunity to get away.
That's when she said she pulled out her registered gun and shot Jose Mendez in the head.
Police said the car crashed into a nearby fence along the Hartford-West Hartford line.
Prosecutors argued in court that just 30 minutes prior, surveillance video at a local hospital showed that Grasso had a chance to get away then too.
"Being armed, being in the presence of others - could have gotten out of this situation approximately a half-hour or 40 minutes before Mr. Mendez was killed," said prosecutor Tom Garcia.
Therefore the state's prosecutor argued her charges should be upgraded from manslaughter to murder.
Grasso's lawyer, Walter Hussey, argued the worst threats were made after the hospital, as the couple drove toward Wendy's.
"There was an explicit threat - 'I'm going to kill your children.' That's what changed from being at Mount Sinai and being at Wendy's," Hussey said.
But the judge didn't agree. As Grasso started to tear up, the judge not only increased her bond to $2 million, but allowed the manslaughter charges to be upgraded to murder.
Victor Mendez said he was relieved.
"I'm speechless," he said. "I'm just happy that justice will finally be served. Her bond was raised. Her charges were changed."
Grasso did enter a not guilty plea. She has also surrendered her gun and permit.
After the court appearance, Grasso was taken back into custody. There's no word if she'll post the new bond.
Court officials said she's due back in court on May 12.
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