Nancy Davis, the mother of Yvette Leonard, says it was brutal sitting in court listening as prosecutors described how Gary Cowell allegedly used an ax to cut up Leonard. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday/Nancy Davis; James Carbone

A Patchogue man used an ax and a shopping cart to cut up a woman’s body and dispose of her remains in three separate locations after she died in his presence last month, prosecutors said at his arraignment on a grand jury indictment Monday.

Gary Cowell, 72, pleaded not guilty to felony counts of concealment of a human corpse and tampering with physical evidence for his alleged actions following the death of Yvette Leonard, 56, of Patchogue, who prosecutors said was last seen heading toward Cowell’s home on Edwards Street June 13.

“Rather than attempt to render aid to her, rather than call for medical assistance or call the police, [Cowell] took an ax and butchered Ms. Leonard into four pieces,” Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Kieran Rogers told acting State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Senft in Riverhead.

Police previously said the remains were found along Montauk Highway near Sills Road in East Patchogue. Cowell made a confession to police, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.

Rogers said Cowell’s actions were an attempt to slow detectives who had already launched a “massive widespread investigation” into Leonard’s whereabouts after she was reported missing by family members. Prosecutors said they believe Leonard died in Cowell’s presence sometime between June 14 and 21 but did not say how she died.

A spokesperson for Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney also declined to comment on the believed cause of death.

Prosecutors described Cowell, who was charged June 27, as a “longtime acquaintance” of Leonard.

Cowell’s court-appointed attorney, Jeremy Scileppi, of Hauppauge, rebuked allegations that his client hindered the police investigation, saying he spoke with police for nine hours and “told a consistent story with respect to what happened.”

“My assessment of Mr. Cowell’s participation with police is that he helped the investigators,” Scileppi told the judge.

Scileppi requested the court notify him if prosecutors seek a superseding indictment adding more charges against his client, to enable him to consider testifying before the grand jury.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Scileppi declined to comment on his client’s relationship with Leonard.

“It seems as though police are still very much involved in investigating what went on,” the attorney said.

Leonard’s mother, Nancy Davis, pushed back tears as she sat in the second row of the courtroom Monday while prosecutors outlined the case against Cowell.

“I feel so empty,” Davis said afterward, adding that Leonard was her only daughter. “I want to thank everybody, detectives, everyone who was out there helping me to find her. I didn’t want to wait for no 20, 25 years to find her.”

Leonard’s son, Malyk, turned to social media and handed out fliers in what he described at a candlelight vigil last week as a “desperate” attempt to find his mom shortly after she went missing. A roommate was the first to notice she was gone.

“That’s my grandson,” Davis said. “Like his mother, he won’t stop.”

Davis said Leonard’s family and friends began to fear the worst when they found her cigarettes and an uncashed check inside her home.

“I told [Malyk], let’s be real about it,” Davis recalled. “I don’t think she’s alive.”

Davis described her daughter as intelligent and caring. She said that when she suffered a stroke in North Carolina, Leonard offered to drop everything to help her.

Davis said her daughter had a history of drug abuse but had been sober for 15 years and aspired to become a drug counselor.

Friends and neighbors who spoke at the July 1 candlelight vigil in front of Leonard’s home on Terry Street said she enjoyed spending time drinking coffee on her front porch, offering a friendly hello to passersby.

That’s how Joseph Todd knew her; he moved to the neighborhood from Virginia a few months ago to help care for his 90-year-old mother, who also attended the candlelight vigil.

Leonard “always smiled,” Todd said.

Two covered coffee cups sat at a tribute set up on the lawn, near a blue heart surrounded by flickering tea lights, candles, balloons and a white teddy bear with Leonard’s picture taped to its chest.

A friend of the family, Danielle Belardo, of Nesconset, handed out red, white and blue flowers to friends and neighbors standing on the sidewalk. The mourners later placed the flowers — neatly, in a row — on the lawn near the tribute.

Leonard’s disappearance alarmed others in the Patchogue community, including Michele Tirado, who didn’t know Leonard personally, but wanted to honor her at the vigil and support her family.

“[The news of her death] just broke my heart,” Tirado said.

Senft kept bail for Cowell, who has been in custody since his arrest, at $1 million cash bail, $2 million bond or $10 million partially secured bond.

Rogers said Cowell faces the possibility of serving life in prison as a repeat felony offender. He has four prior felony convictions, the prosecutor said.

State prison records show that between 1991 and 2013 Cowell served a combined 15 years behind bars for robbery and burglary convictions. Rogers said Cowell also has two prior misdemeanor convictions.

Cowell is due back in court July 25.

A Patchogue man used an ax and a shopping cart to cut up a woman’s body and dispose of her remains in three separate locations after she died in his presence last month, prosecutors said at his arraignment on a grand jury indictment Monday.

Gary Cowell, 72, pleaded not guilty to felony counts of concealment of a human corpse and tampering with physical evidence for his alleged actions following the death of Yvette Leonard, 56, of Patchogue, who prosecutors said was last seen heading toward Cowell’s home on Edwards Street June 13.

“Rather than attempt to render aid to her, rather than call for medical assistance or call the police, [Cowell] took an ax and butchered Ms. Leonard into four pieces,” Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Kieran Rogers told acting State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Senft in Riverhead.

Police previously said the remains were found along Montauk Highway near Sills Road in East Patchogue. Cowell made a confession to police, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Patchogue man used an ax and a shopping cart to cut up a woman’s body and dispose of her remains in three separate locations after she died in his presence last month, a prosecutor said at his arraignment Monday.
  • Gary Cowell, 72, pleaded not guilty to felony counts of concealment of a human corpse and tampering with physical evidence for his alleged actions following the death of Yvette Leonard, 56, of Patchogue.
  • Leonard's remains were found along Montauk Highway near Sills Road in East Patchogue.

Rogers said Cowell’s actions were an attempt to slow detectives who had already launched a “massive widespread investigation” into Leonard’s whereabouts after she was reported missing by family members. Prosecutors said they believe Leonard died in Cowell’s presence sometime between June 14 and 21 but did not say how she died.

A spokesperson for Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney also declined to comment on the believed cause of death.

Prosecutors described Cowell, who was charged June 27, as a “longtime acquaintance” of Leonard.

Cowell’s court-appointed attorney, Jeremy Scileppi, of Hauppauge, rebuked allegations that his client hindered the police investigation, saying he spoke with police for nine hours and “told a consistent story with respect to what happened.”

“My assessment of Mr. Cowell’s participation with police is that he helped the investigators,” Scileppi told the judge.

Scileppi requested the court notify him if prosecutors seek a superseding indictment adding more charges against his client, to enable him to consider testifying before the grand jury.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Scileppi declined to comment on his client’s relationship with Leonard.

“It seems as though police are still very much involved in investigating what went on,” the attorney said.

Nancy Davis, mother of Yvette Leonard, becomes emotional as she talks...

Nancy Davis, mother of Yvette Leonard, becomes emotional as she talks about her late daughter at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Monday. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Leonard’s mother, Nancy Davis, pushed back tears as she sat in the second row of the courtroom Monday while prosecutors outlined the case against Cowell.

“I feel so empty,” Davis said afterward, adding that Leonard was her only daughter. “I want to thank everybody, detectives, everyone who was out there helping me to find her. I didn’t want to wait for no 20, 25 years to find her.”

Leonard’s son, Malyk, turned to social media and handed out fliers in what he described at a candlelight vigil last week as a “desperate” attempt to find his mom shortly after she went missing. A roommate was the first to notice she was gone.

“That’s my grandson,” Davis said. “Like his mother, he won’t stop.”

Davis said Leonard’s family and friends began to fear the worst when they found her cigarettes and an uncashed check inside her home.

“I told [Malyk], let’s be real about it,” Davis recalled. “I don’t think she’s alive.”

Davis described her daughter as intelligent and caring. She said that when she suffered a stroke in North Carolina, Leonard offered to drop everything to help her.

Davis said her daughter had a history of drug abuse but had been sober for 15 years and aspired to become a drug counselor.

Friends and neighbors who spoke at the July 1 candlelight vigil in front of Leonard’s home on Terry Street said she enjoyed spending time drinking coffee on her front porch, offering a friendly hello to passersby.

That’s how Joseph Todd knew her; he moved to the neighborhood from Virginia a few months ago to help care for his 90-year-old mother, who also attended the candlelight vigil.

Leonard “always smiled,” Todd said.

Two covered coffee cups sat at a tribute set up on the lawn, near a blue heart surrounded by flickering tea lights, candles, balloons and a white teddy bear with Leonard’s picture taped to its chest.

A friend of the family, Danielle Belardo, of Nesconset, handed out red, white and blue flowers to friends and neighbors standing on the sidewalk. The mourners later placed the flowers — neatly, in a row — on the lawn near the tribute.

Leonard’s disappearance alarmed others in the Patchogue community, including Michele Tirado, who didn’t know Leonard personally, but wanted to honor her at the vigil and support her family.

“[The news of her death] just broke my heart,” Tirado said.

Senft kept bail for Cowell, who has been in custody since his arrest, at $1 million cash bail, $2 million bond or $10 million partially secured bond.

Rogers said Cowell faces the possibility of serving life in prison as a repeat felony offender. He has four prior felony convictions, the prosecutor said.

State prison records show that between 1991 and 2013 Cowell served a combined 15 years behind bars for robbery and burglary convictions. Rogers said Cowell also has two prior misdemeanor convictions.

Cowell is due back in court July 25.

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