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Lynbrook man pleads guilty to 2016 attack that killed Long Beach woman

Victim was a former educator in the Malverne School District

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A Lynbrook man pleaded guilty on Dec. 20 to murder and other charges relating to a 2016 attack on his girlfriend’s mother — former Malverne School District educator Theresa Kiel — that led to her death in 2018.

Ralph Keppler, 29, appeared before Acting Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn to face charges of second-degree murder and conspiracy, and fourth-degree possession of a weapon. He was remanded and is due back in court for sentencing on Jan. 24.

According to authorities, Keppler beat Kiel, the mother of his girlfriend, Francesca Kiel, with a metal barbell outside her New York Avenue apartment in Long Beach on Dec. 4, 2016, at about 10:30 p.m. Theresa was a teacher and principal in the Malverne School District for 30 years. Her daughter previously pleaded guilty to murder for her involvement in orchestrating the attack.

“Ralph Keppler stalked Theresa Kiel for more than a week and then brutally attacked her outside her Long Beach home, leaving the woman in a persistent vegetative state until she succumbed to her injuries nearly two years later,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement. “This defendant was remarkably calculating in his plan to murder Theresa Kiel.”

Singas also thanked the Long Beach Police Department, the Nassau County Police Department’s Electronics Squad and prosecutors for their efforts in the case.

According to police, Theresa Kiel and Keppler were involved in a business dispute at the time of the attack, and the victim was inside the entrance to her apartment complex when Keppler struck her several times on the head and face with a metal barbell. She suffered severe brain damage, a shattered skull and a depressed right eye, and lost teeth. She was rushed to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, now Mount Sinai South Nassau, and remained in a vegetative state until she died on Nov. 10, 2018, at age 56.

Keppler allegedly fled the scene after the attack, and returned to his Lynbrook home that he shared with Francesca Kiel, 22.

Before the murder, Francesca allegedly purchased a GPS tracking device that was placed on her mother’s car. Keppler allegedly set up email alerts that notified his girlfriend when her mother’s car was near her home or workplace. Francesca also allegedly called a Long Beach taxi company on the night of the attack — the same taxi company that picked up Keppler in the vicinity of the murder scene.

Keppler, who worked as a New York City corrections officer, was arrested at Rikers Island by members of the Long Beach Police Department on Jan. 24, 2018, and charged with attempted murder. Those charges were upgraded when Theresa Kiel died. Keppler was subsequently fired by the Department of Correction.

After his arrest, the district attorney’s office and the Long Beach Police Department continued the investigation, which revealed the alleged involvement of Francesca Kiel. She was arrested on Nov. 11, 2018.

Theresa Kiel’s attorney, Thomas Liotti, said last January that Keppler had invested $350,000 with her to develop an app for college students. Keppler was attempting to get his money back, which Liotti claimed was a motive for the attack. He had sent threatening emails and texts to Kiel before the assault, Liotti added.

Reached by phone last Friday, Liotti said that he believed the two should remain behind bars for life. “I felt that he was guilty all along, and I basically have let the D.A.’s office know that and I let the Police Department know that,” he said. “ . . . He’s a real menace, this guy. He’s very, very dangerous, in my opinion. Neither one of these people should get out of jail.”

Calls to Keppler’s lawyer, Mark Gann, and Francesca Kiel’s attorney, Geoffrey Prime, were not returned at press time.

Kiel was due back in court on Monday for sentencing, and likely faced up to 13 years in prison after striking a deal to testify against Keppler as a cooperating prosecution witness. Keppler is expected to be sentenced to 22 years to life in prison when he returns to court on Jan. 24, according to Singas.