After escorting his hysterical wife to a friend's house, Meconnahey dug a shallow grave beneath his living-room floor and entombed Gambino's body beneath 600 pounds of fresh concrete.
Yesterday, Meconnahey, 33, dressed in a gray three-piece suit, his dirty- blond hair slicked back, quietly pleaded guilty to third-degree murder before Montgomery County Judge William W. Vogel.
"We think this is a fair conclusion," Assistant District Attorney John Sabatino said.
A sentencing date will be set after Meconnahey undergoes a court-ordered background investigation. If Vogel accepts the plea bargain, Meconnahey would
serve 13 1/2 to 27 years in state prison.
Meconnahey was arrested at his sister's home in Newark, Del., Aug. 1 after Ambler police and county detectives discovered Gambino's remains wrapped in garbage bags and a bloody blanket, encased in concrete under the Forest Avenue home. Police were tipped to the body's location by a relative of Meconnahey's.
Joe O'Donnell and Brian McVan, attorneys for Meconnahey, said they went for the guilty plea because they thought their case was in jeopardy.
"(The District Attorney's Office) turned up more and more evidence which made it seem like bad blood rather than a jealous husband," O'Donnell said.
The defense attorneys said they had agreed to a third-degree murder plea rather than face a first-degree murder conviction and possible life sentence.
"We thought, with all these factors together, it looked like a very cold- blooded killing," said McVan.
Meconnahey had told his attorneys that he and Gambino argued several weeks before the shooting, O'Donnell said.
Gambino threatened to kill him, Meconnahey told his attorneys, if he ever interfered with Gambino's romancing of Kathleen Meconnahey.
Meconnahey said he had begun carrying the 9mm Llama semi-automatic pistol with him to protect himself from Gambino.
On the night Meconnahey discovered Gambino in bed with his estranged wife, O'Donnell said, Meconnahey had contemplated beating Gambino with a baseball bat or torturing him with a knife.
Instead, he began poking the carpenter with the barrel of the gun to wake him up. O'Donnell said Meconnahey told him that the gun had gone off accidentally "seconds or moments" after he discovered the lovers in bed.
"Seconds can be a long time when you have a gun, bat, knife and a man in bed with your wife," O'Donnell said.
The Meconnaheys were separated at the time of the shooting. They have a daughter, 3; Kathleen Meconnahey has a daughter, 17, from a previous marriage.
Kathleen Meconnahey could not be reached for comment yesterday.
O'Donnell said Kathleen Meconnahey had custody of the couple's two children. She is still living in the Ambler home where Gambino's body was buried.
Kathleen Meconnahey recently received a payment through the county's insurance to fix the area of the house destroyed when county detectives excavated Gambino's body, O'Donnell said.
Rita Seydel, Gambino's mother, said yesterday that the plea bargain was not fair.
"No, I don't think it was right," she said. "The guy knew what he was doing. That's the easiest cop-out there is. . . . I just don't go for him walking around in 13 to 27 years while my son will never see his children again."
Suzanne Gambino, Christopher Gambino's sister who lives at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, said the family had not been kept informed about the case.
"What took place was just so unfair to everyone in our family," she said. ''We're just angry that someone could kill someone in our family and then get out in 13 1/2 years."
Christopher Gambino, who was separated from his wife, had three children, now 1, 3 and 6.
Suzanne Gambino said Kathleen Meconnahey had become a regular fixture around the Gambino home and had attended a family picnic shortly before the shooting.
Thomas Meconnahey faces additional charges of recklessly endangering another person and possessing an instrument of crime.
No one from either family attended the hearing and, according to his lawyers, Meconnahey has yet to show any real regret.
"(Meconnahey) still feels that it was an accidental killing," O'Donnell said. "He really doesn't have that much remorse. He is still really hot- blooded."