Horrific photos of Jo'Anna Bird's beaten and cut body flicked across a screen Thursday in a Mineola courtroom as a prosecutor told a Nassau jury how Leonardo Valdez-Cruz tortured and then killed his estranged girlfriend.
As a photo of a bloodied window frame appeared on the screen, a man's voice broke the quiet.
"Those weren't my fingerprints. What about that?" shouted Valdez-Cruz, who prosecutors say left the bloody smears on March 19, 2009, when he hoisted himself through the window of Bird's apartment in New Cassel after stabbing her multiple times.
"I loved Jo'Anna," said Valdez-Cruz, who has pleaded not guilty. "What about my feelings?"
At that, Nassau County Judge John Kase took the unusual step of dismissing the jury for lunch, minutes before prosecutor Madeline Singas was to complete her closing argument in Valdez-Cruz's first-degree murder trial.
Initially, Kase ordered that Valdez-Cruz - who until Thursday's outburst had been silent in court - be kept outside the courtroom for the remainder of the trial and allowed to watch the proceedings on a television screen.
But after Valdez-Cruz's lawyer, Dana Grossblatt, told Kase that Valdez-Cruz swore to remain quiet when the proceedings continued, Kase relented.
The judge said, however, that if Valdez-Cruz spoke up again, Kase would have court officers remove him in front of the jury.
Prosecutors say Valdez-Cruz, 24, of Westbury, terrorized Bird for months before torturing her to death in her apartment, stabbing her multiple times - even in the eyes. During the trial, the jury also has heard recordings of phone calls that Valdez-Cruz made to Bird in which he sometimes flew into a rage and threatened her.
Grossblatt has said prosecutors have no concrete proof against her client, and that evidence of a rocky relationship is a far cry from evidence of murder.
Singas was to finish her closing argument when the trial resumed at 2 p.m. The judge would then explain the law to the jury.
Jurors could begin deliberating Thursday afternoon.