A forensic science expert testifying for the defense told jurors Thursday that he would have expected a bloodier crime scene where a woman is accused of stabbing her neighbor 39 times and dismembering her.
Leah Cuevas, 44, of Brooklyn is on trial before Suffolk County Court Judge John Toomey Jr., charged with second-degree murder in the death of her upstairs neighbor, Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, 28.
Parts of Browne’s body were found in Hempstead and Bay Shore on four different days in July 2014.
Defense attorney Mary Elizabeth Abbate called forensic science professor Peter Valentin of the University of New Haven in an attempt to cast doubt on the prosecution’s theory that Cuevas killed and cut up the victim in Cuevas’ living room.
Suffolk investigators found a few drops of blood on the wall in the room and a pool of blood that had soaked through a carpet and padding. Valentin said he would have expected more blood at the scene after such a killing.
Toomey agreed with numerous objections from Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla when Abbate tried to ask if the scene showed evidence of a struggle, or if there were signs that a wheeled suitcase full of body parts was dragged into the woods in Bay Shore where the torso and legs were found.
“Miss Abbate, I just don’t know why we need an expert to tell us that,” Toomey said.
During questioning by Biancavilla, Valentin agreed with a famous maxim among criminal investigators that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” It’s better to rely on the evidence that is found, rather than make assumptions based on what isn’t found, he said.
Valentin also agreed with Biancavilla that, if the victim were incapacitated quickly, there might be less blood and no sign of a struggle. And Valentin, a former Connecticut state trooper, said no investigator waits for forensic testing, which can take months, to decide the course of a case.
“We desire physical evidence to corroborate what people say,” Valentin said.
In this case, people have said they heard Browne screaming in fear at Cuevas during a fight before hearing a thump, and they have said Cuevas took a cab with a heavy suitcase to the places where Browne’s body parts were found.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.