RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSewYork/AP) — A Brooklyn woman pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder in the killing and dismemberment of a mother of four whose body parts were scattered on Long Island.
Leah Cuevas, 42, was arraigned on indictment charges Thursday in Suffolk County District Court. She’s being held without bail.
Prosecutors say the victim, Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, 27, was killed during a July 5 argument in Cuevas’ Brownsville apartment, where Browne also lived and was paying rent.
Authorities said the women were heard arguing about unpaid rent and utilities prior to Browne’s death.
Browne also might have threatened to expose that Cuevas was posing as the owner of the apartment, authorities said. Investigators told CBS 2 that Cuevas had forged the deed for the property naming her the owner after the real owner died.
“The victim was yelling: ‘No, Lee! Oh, no! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!'” Suffolk County prosecutor Robert Biancavilla said in court Thursday. “This was the last time, Judge, that the victim was either heard or seen alive.”
Browne’s remains, including her torso, were first discovered July 8 in a vacant lot in Bay Shore. Other body parts were found within the next week in Hempstead, about 25 miles away.
An autopsy determined that Browne died of “homicidal violence.” Prosecutors said Browne had been stabbed more than 40 times and that her body was dismembered. Her blood was found in Cuevas’s apartment and in a hallway, authorities said.
Prosecutors also said a livery cab driver has come forward and said he transported the defendant, along with a large suitcase, from Brooklyn to Suffolk County on the day of the murder, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported. Cuevas allegedly used a hand truck to drag the suitcase out on wheels because it was so heavy.
“That evidence directly links this defendant to the victim to the murder,” Biancavilla said.
Cuevas’ defense attorney called it preposterous to believe that her client could carry out such a crime.
“The evidence isn’t in. The facts aren’t in,” said lawyer Mary Beth Abbate. “There’s no eyewitness, according to them. There’s no confession, according to them.”
The DA would not comment on whether the suspect’s husband in Brooklyn or sister in Suffolk County knew anything about the crime.
Browne’s family members cried in court as they heard the alleged details in the case.
“I physically feel hurt from processing it,” her husband, Dale Browne, told Hall. “I have to rely on my faith to survive this. I can’t do this in my flesh because I physically feel affected.”
Browne was an immigrant from Guyana. Her husband said his wife moved to New York about a year ago and worked in a Manhattan department store.
He said he and their four children were planning to move to New York after he got his paperwork completed.
“I just keep the focus on our kids,” Dale Browne told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
“You can only become stronger from something like this.”
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