A New York City woman decapitated her neighbor after an argument over unpaid rent and then dismembered the woman’s lifeless body before dumping her head, arms, torso and legs at different locations across Long Island, a Suffolk County prosecutor said Thursday.
Leah Cuevas, 42, of Brooklyn, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in connection with the death of 28-year-old Chinelle Latoya Browne. She was ordered held without bail following her Thursday morning arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip.
Before sending Cuevas back to a holding cell, Judge G. Ann Spelman said, “She is charged with the worst conduct that humans can be capable of. The district attorney’s evidence is more than compelling. It’s very strong.”
Prosecutors believe Browne was killed around 8 p.m. on July 5 inside the Brooklyn apartment building where both women lived. Cuevas had “been pretending to be the landlord” and was collecting rent from Browne for four to five months, a neighbor told police.
The neighbor also reported overhearing the two women arguing the day before the alleged slaying over complaints of no electricity, hot water and unpaid rent. Prosecutors said the confrontation became “so heated” that neighbors stepped in and police were called.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said a witness told investigators they heard a fight the next day and could make out Browne – an immigrant from Guyana – screaming from inside Cuevas’ first-floor apartment. The witness said they heard Browne screaming out, “No Leah. No Leah. What you doing? Oh no. Oh no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“That was the last time the victim was ever heard or seen alive,” Biancavilla said.
Cuevas’ court-appointed lawyer, Mary Beth Abbate, argued at the arraignment that Suffolk County had no jurisdiction to prosecute the case because the alleged murder took place in Brooklyn.
“There is no factual basis whatsoever that the victim is deceased and that my client had any part in her murder,” the North Babylon-based defense attorney said. “I’m asking that the complaint be dismissed at this point and my client be released.”
Biancavilla said Suffolk was the appropriate venue in the case because Browne’s torso and legs and had been recovered in Bay Shore. Her arms and head were found at three separate homes in Hempstead days later. The prosecutor said police used DNA evidence and tattoos to link the dismembered limbs to Browne.
The medical examiner found Browne was killed by “homicidal violence,” which included multiple stab wounds to her head and body, Biancavilla said. Her blood was also found in Cuevas’ apartment and in a hallway in the building.
Police said Thursday the investigation was “still active,” but it was unclear if detectives had their sights set on any other suspects. Prosecutors are expected to line up a grand jury to hear the case in the coming days.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Browne’s aunt, Pauline Claxton, said she wanted justice for her niece.
“She has to pay for the crime that she committed,” she said of Cuevas.