No one saw Leah Cuevas kill and dismember a friend and neighbor, and the Brooklyn woman did not confess to the gruesome crime that occurred in the summer of 2014, her defense lawyer told a jury Monday.
Although authorities say Cuevas used a knife to cut off the head, arms and legs of Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, 28, police did not find the murder weapon. And little of Browne’s blood was found inside Cuevas’ apartment, where Suffolk prosecutors said Cuevas stabbed Browne 39 times, then chopped up her body.
“So, where is all the blood?” one of Cuevas’ attorneys, Mary Elizabeth Abbate, of North Babylon, said in her summation. Abbate urged jurors before Suffolk County Court Judge John J. Toomey Jr. in Riverhead to acquit her client of second-degree murder.
But in his summation, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said there is plenty of circumstantial evidence pointing to Cuevas as the person who killed Browne on July 5, 2014, and dumped her body parts across Long Island.
The circumstantial case against Cuevas is based on witness testimony, DNA evidence, surveillance videos and cellphone records, he said.
A surveillance video of a local coin-operated laundry showed Browne doing laundry at 7:33 p.m. on July 5, 2014.
A couple who lived in the same Bedford-Stuyvesant building as Cuevas and Browne said they saw Browne enter the building, pushing a cart filled with laundry, and moments later they heard the women argue in Cuevas’ apartment, Biancavilla said. The couple saw Browne’s slippers and cart in the hallway, just outside the entrance of Cuevas’ apartment.
Cuevas had argued bitterly and fought physically with Browne during a dispute over rent, and whether the two women were unfaithful to their husbands. Browne disappeared after the fight, but the defense said while the two fought, Cuevas did not kill Browne.
Taxi driver Ernesto Hodgson testified that he drove Cuevas to Hempstead with a large suitcase tied with orange bungee cords, the same color cords found at one of the dump sites, Biancavilla said. And the bungee cords are similar to the ones Cuevas’ former lover, Faidy Jacques, said he had purchased for her at her request.
Cellphone records put Cuevas in Hempstead on July 7, 2014, at 12:55 a.m., two days after the murder, Biancavilla said. Cuevas used her cellphone to call her husband and a cell tower that picked up the call is within walking distance of where Browne’s head and arms were found in Hempstead.
Hodgson also said he dropped Cuevas at a pawnshop where an employee said Cuevas sold two 14-karat gold rings that prosecutors said were Browne’s wedding and engagement rings.
“Where do you think the two rings came from?” Biancavilla said.
Jacques testified that he drove Cuevas and a large suitcase, which the prosecutor said contained Browne’s torso and legs, to Bay Shore, another dump site. Jacques said he returned 15 minutes later and picked Cuevas up, and she did not have the suitcase. Jacques also testified that Cuevas gave him a large, black plastic bag containing clothes that she wanted him to give to his mother to donate to people in Haiti.
In the bag, police found Browne’s shoes, jewelry, her diary, a paycheck and a photograph of Browne and her four young children. “Why would she [Cuevas] do that unless she was trying to cover up what she did?” Biancavilla said.
Jury deliberations began Monday and will resume Tuesday.
If convicted, Cuevas faces 25 years to life in prison.