CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A possible motive has been revealed in the vicious murder of a Brooklyn mother.
Leah Cuevas, of Brooklyn, faced a judge Thursday. She is charged in the alleged killing and dismemberment of a woman whose body parts were found scattered around Long Island earlier this month.
Cuevas pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 27-year-old Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne. The judge ordered Cuevas held without bail.
Investigators believe that Browne threatened to expose a secret and sent Cuevas into a violent rage.
Police said that Cuevas had been posing as the landlord of the Brownsville apartment where Browne lived. Investigators told CBS 2 that Cuevas was not the landlord, but had forged the deed for the property naming her the owner when the real owner died.
Investigators said that Cuevas, 42, attacked Browne when she threatened to expose her. The alleged attack is believed to have happened in Cuevas’ apartment.
An autopsy determined that Browne died of “homicidal violence,” including multiple stabbing and incise wounds, Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said. He added that Browne’s blood was found in Cuevas’s apartment and in a hallway.
Biancavilla said Browne’s dismembered torso was found in a Bay Shore parking lot on July 8.
Shortly after the Bay Shore discovery, severed arms were found in the yards of two other homes in Hempstead a day apart, authorities said.
Then on July 17, a severed head was found in front of a row of bushes outside another home in Hempstead, the prosecutor said.
The criminal complaint alleges Cuevas decapitated Browne while she was still alive, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.
Police and federal authorities said DNA and tattoos matched Browne to the remains found.
Biancavilla did not say whether a murder weapon was recovered, but police noted in a press release announcing the arrest that the investigation remained “active.”
Neighbors said that they heard the two women arguing about unpaid rent and utilities, CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
“We heard all the argument, and we never knew that it escalated to this,” Donald Watson said.
The prosecutor said that on the day of the alleged killing, Browne was seen entering Cuevas’s apartment. Shortly thereafter, a witness reported hearing Browne scream, “Oh no, oh no. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”’ Moments later, the witness said she heard Cuevas yell an expletive telling Browne to “shut up.”
Neighbors told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown that Cuevas had been living at 246 Sumpter St. for less than two years acting as landlord. But in that time they said she developed quite a reputation.
“She’s a really angry person,” said neighbor Khalid Melvin.
“She was mean lady. She want to fight with everybody,” neighbor Patsy Marshall said.
Browne was an immigrant from Guyana, with her four children and husband still residing there. Her family was in court Thursday.
“She was a wonderful person. The best person you would ever want to meet — very loving, very kind, very gentle,” Browne’s aunt Pauline Claxton said.
Her husband, Dale Browne, said his wife moved to New York about a year ago and worked in a Manhattan department store. He said he and the children planned to move to New York after he got his paperwork completed.
“I don’t think I can script my emotions to you. It’s surreal,” Browne told McLogan.
Browne said his wife loved her family and she made a sacrifice to leave Guyana to come to the United States.
“Every time I talk with my children, they give me memories of their mother,” Browne told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “I brought notes from my daughter. I said, ‘Write what it is that you want to say to Mommy.’ [She wrote], ‘I miss you, Mommy. Come home soon,’ and it breaks your heart.”
When McLogan asked Browne’s husband if he had a message for Cuevas, he said, “Vengeance belongs to God.”
Browne’s family said they want to know whether Cuevas acted alone. The investigation, and search for possible accomplices remains active, McLogan reported.
If convicted, Cuevas faces life in prison.
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