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Long IslandNassau

Slain woman's accused boyfriend: 'I didn't do the crime'

Leonardo Valdez-Cruz tapped his foot nervously under the table in a visiting room at the Nassau County jail as he discussed the upcoming first anniversary of the day police said he fatally stabbed his girlfriend.

"I was just starting to get over the hump of dealing with the fact that she's gone," said Valdez-Cruz, 23, of Westbury, of Jo'Anna Bird. "Now it's like I'm never going to get over it."

Two weeks before he is set to go to trial on murder charges, Valdez-Cruz fervently denied any part in Bird's March 19, 2009, death.

He agreed to be interviewed by Newsday against the advice of his defense lawyer, Dana Grossblatt, of Jericho. But Valdez-Cruz did heed Grossblatt's advice not to answer specific questions about the details of his case, including about what police said was his history of abusing Bird and what happened on the day of her death.

Police have said Valdez-Cruz had a history of mistreating Bird, 24, of New Cassel, including one incident in which he violated an order of protection and kidnapped, beat and held her at gunpoint. Judge John Kase has ruled that the jury will learn that Bird held numerous orders of protection against Valdez-Cruz, but will not learn about most of the allegations of prior abuse.

Sharon Dorsett, Bird's mother, said her daughter feared Valdez-Cruz.

"She was deathly afraid of him," Dorsett said of Valdez-Cruz. "She was always afraid of him and he always said he was going to kill her."

Bird's family has filed notice that they intend to sue both police and prosecutors for failing to protect Bird, given Valdez-Cruz's long history of abuse. The family's lawyer, Fredrick Brewington of Hempstead, has scheduled a news conference Friday.

An internal police review found that seven officers failed to properly investigate previous domestic violence calls to Bird's mother's home.

In the jailhouse interview Monday, Valdez-Cruz expressed outrage at what he says are the false charges against him.

"I can't believe I'm in jail for this," he said. "Our good friends know that we were together and deeply in love. We just had some problems which we were working out."

Valdez-Cruz said he and Bird started dating in 2002. In 2005, the two had a son together.

Prosecutor Madeline Singas said she is confident in the strength of her case against Valdez-Cruz. Brewington would not make Bird's family available, but he said they too are confident that he will be convicted.

Asked if he has any regrets, Valdez-Cruz said, "There's stuff I could have done better on. There's stuff we could have done better on. But I'm at peace because I know I didn't do the crime. I know the last time we were together it was a good moment and we were on good terms."