In a short court appearance this morning in New York, Leah Cuevas, 42, pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder. The Brooklyn woman is accused of murdering and dismembering a mother of four who rented space in her deceased uncle’s building. Cuevas was sent back to jail and denied bail by the judge. Family members of the victim, Chinelle LaToya Thompson Browne, 27, expressed their joy in whispers of “Yes!” as the judge made her ruling. Cuevas is alleged to have killed Browne and dumped her remains in various locations throughout Long Island.
Browne’s aunt and husband, both of whom had flown to the U.S. from Browne’s native Guyana, were present in the 1st District courtroom for the arraignment. Browne’s aunt raised her arms in the air victoriously at the judge’s ruling. The victim’s husband, Dale Browne, is said to be distraught. In her ruling, Judge G. Ann Spelman described Cuevas’ actions as being the “worst conduct” of which humans are capable. She added that the evidence compiled against Cuevas by the District Attorney’s office is “more than compelling,” even “strong.”
Cuevas is alleged to have stabbed Browne, who has lived in the U.S. for one year, in the torso and neck multiple times during an argument on July 5 that occurred inside Browne’s Brooklyn apartment, located on Sumpter St. in Brownsville. Witnesses claim to have heard Browne screaming at Cuevas during the argument, saying, “Oh no! Oh no! I’m sorry!” Assistant district attorney of Suffolk County, Robert Biancavilla, said in court that those words were the last ever uttered by Browne, who went missing after the fight with Cuevas.
The discovery of a torso bearing a tattoo and legs in a parking lot in Long Island on July 8 led to the identification of the body parts as Browne’s. Prosecutors say that the parking lot in which the remains were found was less than one mile from the home of Cuevas’ sister. An arm was discovered the next day on the front lawn of a Hempstead home. The other arm was found before the end of the week, but Browne’s head was not discovered until July 17, when it was found near the intersection of Boylston and Chamberlain streets in Hempstead.
Cuevas was arrested as the result of a joint investigation between homicide detectives of Suffolk County and the U.S. Marshals’ New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force. The investigation is still active, indicating that another person may have been involved, perhaps assisting Cuevas in getting rid of the dismembered body.
Neighbors reported that Cuevas attacked and murdered Browne after Browne refused to pay Cuevas $200.00, which Browne believed she was owed for electricity. According to neighbor Donald Watson, 49, Browne allegedly told Cuevas that she would not pay because she had not been receiving sufficient power in the Brooklyn apartment and she needed the money to find a new place to live. Watson said that Browne was having trouble with her electricity going out, leading her to want to move out, but “the landlord said ‘no.'”
Cuevas’ uncle owned the Brooklyn building, but died last year. Cuevas lived on the floor directly below Browne. Building residents are unsure as to who actually owns the building now that the owner is deceased. Neighbor Lerron Straker said that Cuevas is “claiming” to be the landlord. Watson added that Browne and Cuevas had a long history of loud, frequent and public arguments regarding building disputes, and that the “evil” Cuevas would scream, “This is my building!” He related that police had been called multiple times. Their solution was to tell the women to settle their disputes in small claims court.
Browne’s husband, Dale Browne, was planning to bring their four children and join his wife in the U.S. once his papers were in order. Chinelle Brown had gone ahead of him to obtain employment and a suitable apartment. When asked if he had a message for Cuevas, Dale Browne said, “Vengeance belongs to God.”
By Jennifer Pfalz