LYNBROOK, Nassau County (WABC) -- A former New York City correction officer and his 21-year-old girlfriend have been charged in the fatal beating of the woman's mother on Long Island.
Nassau County police say 27-year-old Ralph Keppler and 21-year-old Francesca Kiel, both of Lynbrook, are now charged with second degree murder.
Police say the victim, 56-year-old Theresa Kiel, was brutally attacked and struck in the face with a metal barbell at her apartment in Long Beach in December of 2016. She lost an eye and remained in a vegetative state until she died on Saturday.
"She was hit several times about the head with a barbell, which caused severe injuries to her head and the loss of her right eye," said Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, Nassau County Police Department.
Prosecutors had alleged the motive to be a business dispute.
Detectives say Francesca Kiel plotted the murder, conspiring with Keppler, a former Rikers Island correction officer.
Keppler had been charged back in January with attempted murder and assault and was out on bail. His lawyer says he's innocent.
Francesca Kiel had not been charged until Monday. Her lawyer says the arrest came as a shock.
"Francesca unfortunately has to bury her mother, while also fighting allegations, which obviously, she vehemently denies," said defense attorney Geoffrey Prime.
At the heart of the case are legal motions and a lawsuit. Keppler was suing Theresa Kiel over a dating app they were developing, and money he and his family invested that the victim allegedly squandered.
"I believe that there are others that had motives to attack her, we've investigated some of those," said Keppler's attorney Marc Gann. "I can't get into detail right now but I fully believe that Ralph is innocent of these charges and I expect to be able to prove that in court."
But Theresa Kiel's civil attorney Thomas Liotti says he lived in fear of Ralph Keppler and even carried a panic button.
"The Nassau County police told me that I was in danger and they gave me some security devices and I could protect myself and my family," said Liotti.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)