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Long IslandCrime

Stepson pleads not guilty to murder of LI woman

The stepson of a Valley Stream woman whose body was found last month in a Dumpster was arrested Saturday night and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder Sunday in connection with her killing.

William Tracey, 26, whose father was married to victim Denise Tracey, 42, was ordered held without bail on a second-degree murder charge at First District Court in Hempstead.

Police discovered Denise Tracey's body March 29 in a Dumpster in a parking lot behind 505 Dubois Ave. The defendant and the victim lived with other family members at 41 Dartmouth St., less than half a mile from where the body was found.

Denise Tracey died of injuries sustained from blows to the head, police said. At a news conference Sunday in Nassau police headquarters in Mineola, detectives said the investigation focused on where Denise Tracey was last seen - at home watching TV, around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, March 28.

Homicide Squad Det. Sgt. John DeMartinis said William Tracey and his stepmother got into a fight in the basement of the home between 3:15 and 3:30 a.m.

"There was a verbal argument in the basement, in William's room. That verbal argument led to a physical confrontation," DeMartinis said.

"She was struck multiple times in the head with a blunt instrument and she received skull fractures." Denise Tracey's husband, Paul, and two other sons were in the home, police said, upstairs in the house's second floor. DeMartinis said it's "not unreasonable" that the other family members "did not hear anything."

Police arrested William Tracey at 7:25 p.m. Saturday in Fair Harbor on Fire Island, authorities said.

Asked whether police believe Tracey acted alone, DeMartinis said: "We have no investigative leads to make us feel otherwise." At the arraignment before Judge Francis Ricigliano, Tracey's father and one of his brothers stood at the rail. A public defender who represented Tracey said he had his high school equivalency degree and worked installing awnings for a Lawrence company. Tracey had a 2005 drug conviction, police said.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Holbrook said Tracey told police that he left the house around the time investigators believe his stepmother's body was dumped in the trash bin.

Later, Holbrook said the investigation ultimately "gave doubt as to the explanation" Tracey offered for his absence. Holbrook would not reveal what explanation Tracey gave investigators. A search of Tracey's room led to the recovery of "significant forensic evidence," Holbrook said, but he later declined to offer details. He said a murder weapon has not been found.

William Tracey's father and brother declined to comment to reporters.

On Dartmouth Street Sunday, neighbor Moe Cohen, 36, expressed shock at the news of William Tracey's arrest, saying he worked hard and was loyal to his family.

And at Cold Cut Express Deli on Dubois Avenue, in the strip mall behind which Denise Tracey's body was found, clerk Lusvin Monroy said he remembered William Tracey coming in hours before police discovered his stepmother's body. "He came to say whether I had seen her, that she had disappeared," Monroy, 20, said. "She used to come here almost every morning."

Denise Tracey grew up in Freeport and had taken over her father's vending machine business after he died, a former neighbor told Newsday.

For Adriana Elizondo, whose home is next to the lot where the Dumpster was located, Sunday's development brought some relief. "I feel a little lighter inside now," said Elizondo, 45, who said she had deadbolts installed on all her exterior doors after the discovery of the body. "Knowing they've arrested somebody who was involved in the incident, I feel a little bit more at ease."

Tracey is due in Nassau County Court in Mineola on Wednesday. The charge of second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life imprisonment.

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