Monday, November 8, 2010

Cancel Trial Continues; Manhattan DA Makes an Appearance

Kevin Pravia in an undated photo

The prosecution in the Jeromie Cancel murder trial ended a day of testimony by playing a video that was ostensibly a crime scene recording of the apartment where Cancel allegedly murdered Kevin Pravia, but included shots that lingered on photos of Pravia and cards sent to him by friends and family that he used to decorate his Chelsea home.

Jurors, attorneys, and observers sat in Manhattan Supreme Court on November 8 as the silent 11-minute video played. The only sound was Paula Pravia, Kevin’s mother, quietly weeping. She testified on November 4, the trial’s first day, and several jurors turned and briefly watched her as the video played. Paula has been carrying a small quilt that friends made for her from Kevin’s clothes and she had that with her when she testified.

Cancel, now 24, faces one second degree murder count in the killing. Allegedly, he strangled the 19-year-old Pravia after the two met near Union Square early in the morning on August 30, 2008. The prosecution is also presenting evidence that Cancel robbed the gay college student after the murder, but Cancel is not charged with robbery.

In what may be an indication of how seriously the Manhattan prosecutor’s office is taking this case, District Attorney Cyrus Vance came to the trial on November 8 and sat alone at the rear of the courtroom for roughly 45 minutes. Vance won the district attorney’s office last year.

Steven Nuzzi, the prosecutor on the case, has been slowly, but deliberately piecing together his evidence. On November 8, jurors heard from the Queens police officer who Cancel first told about the murder.

Cancel was arrested on September 2, 2008 outside his father’s Queens home for an earlier theft from his father. Once at the 104th Precinct, he blurted out that he had killed Kevin and supplied details that only the killer would know. Police were skeptical despite Cancel’s lengthy admission.

“We deal with that a lot,” said the officer who first spoke with Cancel. “Kids from the street try to make themselves out to be more important than they are.”

Police appear to have quickly decided that Cancel was Kevin’s killer and contacted detectives in Chelsea’s 10th Precinct. Cancel was arrested on the larceny charge at 12:30 am on September 2 and by 1:20 am that morning 10th Precinct detectives were in a car to pick up Cancel, Rocco Russo, the detective who ran the investigation testified on November 8.

That timeline has been a major sticking point for the defense which argued that Cancel should have been read his Miranda rights as soon as he admitted to the killing. The defense has suggested that cops in Queens did not just listen to Cancel reveal details of the killing, but questioned him.

The judge in the case, Daniel P. Fitzgerald, threw out the statements Cancel made to two Queens detectives because he had not been read his rights though Fitzgerald allowed the statements to the police officer to come in. That was a Pyhrric victory for the defense because Cancel made eight other statements, including one written and two videotaped statements, that the jury will hear. Cancel waived his Miranda rights at the 10th Precinct at 2:30 am, according to Russo.

More of Cancel’s statements, including his written statement, were introduced through Russo’s testimony and his videotaped statements are expected to be introduced on November 9. At one point, Cancel grew tired of discussing the killing. When Russo asked him to be in a line up, Cancel responded “Why do I have to do this? I murdered him. I strangled him. I’ve been telling you that all day.”

Josephine Madonna, Kevin’s friend and roommate at the time, also testified on November 8 saying she came home from an out of town visit to find the apartment ransacked, two jewelry boxes she owned open with one empty, and Kevin lying dead on his bed.

“I saw his foot was sticking out,” she said. “I pulled the quilt off the bed and he was there...After I saw him I went and I grabbed my phone and I went out into the hallway and I called 911.”

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