Authorities have identified a suspect accused of killing a 27-year-old woman whose partially dismembered body was found in Bay Shore two weeks ago.
U.S. Marshalls arrested Leah Cuevas, who pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder when she was arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip.
Cuevas, wearing a brown floral dress and a salmon sweater, didn’t speak.
“She is charged with the worst conduct that humans can be capable of,” Judge G. Ann Spelman said when she ordered the 42-year-old suspect held at Suffolk County jail without bail.
“Yes” whispered a woman sitting with the victim’s family as she raised both arms in the air.
Suffolk County police said Cuevas killed Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne, a Guyanese immigrant and mother of four who was reported missing July 5 from the Brooklyn apartment building where the suspect and victim both had lived.
“No, Leah, what are you doing?” witnesses heard the victim yell from her apartment, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla told the court. She was also heard screaming: “Oh no, oh no, I’m sorry!”
The confrontation leading up to the murder was about payment of rent and utility bills, he said. The victim was last seen entering her home with her bag of laundry. Her blood was found splattered in the apartment and in the hallway outside, he added.
Two people found Browne’s torso in a vacant lot on the corner of Maple Avenue and Gibson Street while walking to the nearby Fire Island ferry terminal on the morning of July 8. Her severed legs were found nearby. The dump site is less than a mile from the suspect’s sister’s house.
Prosecutors confirmed that a severed head and two severed arms found scattered in Hempstead were also Browne’s. The body parts were all found on separate days with a week after the Bay Shore discovery. Investigators identified the remains with her tattoos and DNA.
Hempstead village, Nassau County and New York City police were also involved in the investigation but declined to comment.
Cuevas’ court-appointed attorney, Mary Beth Abbate, argued that since the murder is alleged to have been committed in New York City, Suffolk has no jurisdiction in the case. Biancavilla argued that since Cuevas allegedly dumped the body in Bay Shore, that gave the county jurisdiction. Spellman ordered the court paperwork charging Cuevas be updated to clarify where the body was found.
Browne’s family members wept as they exited the courtroom. Through teardrops, one woman said Browne was “was a wonderful person, the best person you would ever want to know.”
Another woman shouted: “We want justice.”
“She has to pay for the crime that she committed,” the woman added.
Browne had four children, ranging from 3 to 7. They lived in Guyana with her husband, Dale.
Speaking softly, Dale said he had last seen his wife in April, when she visited the family.
“She made a sacrifice for her family,” he said. “She loved her family. She wanted her family with her and she did all that it took. That’s what’s important.”
He was in his home country when his wife was brutally killed. The couple, who met in Guyana, would’ve celebrated their fifth anniversary on Aug. 29.
A 27-year-old witness who lived on the second floor in the same apartment building as Browne told police Cuevas “has been pretending to be the landlord,” according to court documents. Browne rented the room for $400, and Cuevas would collect money “despite the fact that there is no hot water and the only electricity we have comes from one cord that comes from Leah’s first floor apartment,” the documents state.
“We all got along without any problems until this past Friday, July 4th,” she said.
The woman told investigators that Browne confronted Cuevas about the electricity when the power went out on Independence Day.
“Leah got angry and started yelling very loudly,” she said.
The next day, the woman and her family overhead Browne screaming “oh no, oh no, I’m sorry.” Cuevas responded, “Shut the fuck up,” according to the five-page criminal complaint.
“Then everything went quiet,” she added, “no voices, no more sounds. It was clear to me that [Browne] was fearful and was getting assaulted…The scare in her voice was like nothing I ever heard before.”
The next time she saw Cuevas she was mopping the hallway. She inquired about Browne’s whereabouts and was told she “walked off with a Jamaican man.”
Police weren’t called until two days later, July 7, when Browne’s co-worker and sister came to the apartment.
According to New York City records, the apartment building located at 346 Sumpter Street in Brooklyn, was owned by Garth Lewis, who sold it on June 19, 2013 to Vladimir Cuevas, who is believed to be her husband.
It was described as a “sale between relatives or former relatives.”
Less then four months later, another deed was filed for the same address, but under the name Janett Lloyd. The deed identifies the seller as Garth Lewis, who, according to the documents, was deceased. The deed claims that Lewis died Feb. 26, 2013, four months before the purported sale to Cuevas.
Lloyd is identified in the deed as Lewis’ sole surviving heir.
A Suffolk County police spokeswoman declined to say if investigators are looking into the sales.
Browne’s remains were taken to the Nassau and Suffolk County medical examiners’ offices. Homicide Squad detectives are continuing the investigation.