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Hempstead laundry worker recalls 'horrendous' attack on customer's baby

Ralphael Brown, 19, of Hempstead, is led out

Ralphael Brown, 19, of Hempstead, is led out of Nassau police headquarters in Mineola for arraignment in Hempstead on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Brown is to be arraigned on charges stemming from an attack Tuesday on a female employee and a 1-year-old at a self-service laundry in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

One minute Hempstead laundry worker Lesley Licona was playing with a customer's baby daughter. The next she was fighting off a robber, riveted in horror as her attacker kicked the baby and ripped away her diamond necklace.

"I think it is a horrendous crime. The baby could've been killed," said Licona, 39, back at work Fridaymorning at the 24 Hour Laundry at 620 Fulton Ave.

Licona's alleged attacker, Ralphael Brown, 19, of Hempstead, pleaded not guilty Friday to multiple felony charges at his arraignment at First District Court in Hempstead.

The 1-year-old girl had cuts to the head, chest and back area after the Tuesday attack, police said. The baby was taken by ambulance to a hospital to be treated. A police spokeswoman Friday morning said she did not have an update on the baby's condition.

"Her little face, she looked scared," Licona told Newsday, speaking Spanish and displaying scratches left by her attacker to her left hand and the upper part of her chest, below the collarbone. "I'm still shaking."

Licona said the baby is 18 months old and had scratches and a bump to the right side of her head when she was taken to the hospital; she appeared more frightened than anything.

Judge Scott Siller ordered Brown to be held on $500,000 bail at his arraignment Friday. He pleaded not guilty to felony charges of second-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree assault, second-degree strangulation and a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child, police said. Brown is due back in court Tuesday. He is represented by Legal Aid, which does not comment on behalf of its clients.

A woman who identified herself as Brown's mother said, "All I know is it's a lie," after leaving the courtroom.

Assistant District Attorney Anna Acquafredda said Brown had a conviction for robbery and had served a 1-to-3-year term before his release in April. She said Brown also has an open felony gun charge from May.

In the Tuesday attack, Licona said the suspect walked into the laundry about noon as she was playing with the baby, standing over her and holding her upright by her hands as the baby stood facing away from her.

They were near the office in front of the building when the attacker pushed her into the wall and grabbed her by her neck, Licona said.

The baby plopped to the floor, and the attacker kicked once at her sideways to move her out of his path, Licona said.

Court papers said Brown demanded quarters from Licona and then "grabbed the victim by the neck with both hands."

As Licona screamed for him not to hurt the baby, Brown said, "I don't give a [expletive] about the baby," according to the documents.

As the suspect tried pushing Licona into the office, she said she resisted.

"He was a big guy," she said. "He was trying to get me in the office. I put my foot forward to stop him from moving me, and the baby was crying."

She said her attacker noticed her diamond necklace after he grabbed her neck and said, "Oh, you have a necklace. Give me that necklace," before yanking it off her neck and running out, Licona said.

The baby's mother, who had been at the other end of the laundry, rushed to her daughter, and another customer called 911, not "three seconds" after the attacker left, Licona said.Police said Brown fled on foot and was seen getting into a blue 2010 Mazda that headed onto Fulton Avenue. Detectives tracked him to his residence, 358 Washington Ave., where they arrested him with assistance from the Bureau of Special Operations, police said.

"I'm still nervous," Licona said, explaining why she is working despite the assault still tearing at her emotions. "I'm nervous, but I have three children. One in college, one in high school and one in second grade. I have no choice."

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