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Manhattan trial opens in punk pioneer's slaying

A personal assistant's confession to killing her celebrity real estate broker boss was just a tale concocted to satisfy police, a defense lawyer said Monday.

Natavia Lowery stole from Linda Stein - a real estate powerhouse with punk-rock roots - but didn't kill her, defense lawyer John Christie told jurors as Lowery's murder trial opened.

She's accused of clubbing Stein to death with a piece of exercise equipment to hide thousands of dollars in theft.

Stein comanaged influential punk rockers the Ramones before turning to real estate. Her clients included Madonna, Sting and other entertainers.

In a videotaped confession, Lowery said she lost control of herself and pummeled Stein with a stick used for stretching exercises after Stein badgered and insulted her.

"She made it up to give the police what they wanted to hear," Christie said.

Stein, 62, was found bludgeoned to death Oct. 30, 2007, in her Fifth Avenue apartment, where she and Lowery had been working.

Prosecutors say Lowery killed Stein to silence her about more than $30,000 the assistant had stolen to pay her student loans and other debts.

Lowery initially told police she knew nothing about the slaying - and blamed it on a masked stranger - before giving her now-disputed confession.

The police didn't know then about the theft, so Lowery "gave a version of events that made it sound like a crime of the moment instead of what it really is: getting caught stealing and killing the person who has caught you," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told jurors in an opening statement.

Lowery's drive to steal was so strong that she used Stein's ATM card to help herself to $800 shortly after the killing and kept using her credit cards for days, Illuzzi-Orbon said.

Lowery's lawyers have noted that her statement came after police questioned her overnight for more than 12 hours, without the attorney her family had hired. She had told police she didn't want the lawyer there.

The defense lawyers lost a bid to keep her confession from being used as evidence. A judge also rebuffed their plan to have a psychologist testify about reasons why people sometimes confess to crimes they didn't commit. But the defense can raise questions about the circumstances of Lowery's confession.

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