A Brooklyn woman repeatedly stabbed a neighbor following a dispute over unpaid rent and then dismembered her body, depositing the victim's head and arms in one Long Island community, and her torso and legs in another 25 miles east, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Leah Cuevas, 42, was ordered held without bail in Suffolk County District Court on Long Island after pleading not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, a 28-year-old Guyanese immigrant who lived in the apartment above Cuevas.
Authorities did not provide further details of the killing, other than to say it occurred July 5, in the Brooklyn apartment building where both Cuevas and Browne lived. A statement a neighbor in the building gave to police said the two women had argued loudly the day before over complaints about no electricity, hot water and unpaid rent. That neighbor said Browne was renting a room from Cuevas.
Mary Beth Abbate, a court-appointed defense attorney, argued during the arraignment that Suffolk County was not the proper venue because the killing allegedly took place in New York City. Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said that because the victim's torso was the first evidence recovered — and that happened in Suffolk County — the local court was the proper venue.
District Court Judge G. Ann Spelman agreed and allowed the arraignment to proceed.
An autopsy determined that Browne died of "homicidal violence," including multiple stabbing and incise wounds, Biancavilla said. He added Browne's blood was found in Cuevas's apartment and in a hallway.
He did not say whether a murder weapon was recovered, but police noted in a press release announcing the arrest that the investigation remained "active."
The prosecutor said that on the day of the alleged killing, Browne was seen entering Cuevas's apartment. Shortly thereafter, the witness reported hearing Browne scream, "Oh no, oh no. I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Moments later the witness said she heard Cuevas yell an expletive telling Browne to "shut up."
Browne's dismembered torso was discovered in a wooded lot near the Fire Island ferry terminal in Bay Shore on July 9, Biancavilla said. Her severed legs were found nearby.
Days later, the woman's arms were found in separate yards in Hempstead, about 25 miles west of Bay Shore, and her severed head was discovered at another home in the village on July 17, the prosecutor said.
Dale Browne, the victim's husband, said his wife had moved to New York about a year ago and worked in a Manhattan department store. He planned to move to New York with their four children after he got his paperwork completed.
He read from a Bible verse outside the courtroom following the arraignment before speaking with reporters.
"I trust God," he said. "My wife was a human being, a mother of four, a wife and all that goes with that connotation. She loved her family; she made a sacrifice to leave Guyana to come here."
He added: "What hurt the most is when the prosecutor described the words that she screamed out. I can hear those words, you know? Pretty animalistic. Just a beast that did this."
He declined to comment on whether Browne had spoken of prior disputes with Cuevas.