SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. — A 43-year-old homeless man was arrested Friday on charges of raping and murdering a 55-year-old woman who cared for a blind man at the Lakeview Village housing complex where she lived.
Spring Valley police said Juan Perez-Coira Jr. knew Deborah Burns from the housing complex where both of their families lived.
Perez-Coira and Burns met on Christmas Eve and walked to a multifamily house where Burns was found dead, Detective Sgt. James Noble said. She was killed about 7:30 p.m.
"They knew one another," Noble said. "We don't know the extent of their relationship. He apparently didn't know her last name. They met up on Christmas Eve and he ended up taking her to 16 Lafayette St., where the rape and subsequent murder took place outside at the garage."
Saul Navarro, a longtime village resident who lives at 16 Lafayette St. and knows Perez-Coira, told police he witnessed the killing.
According to a statement read at Perez-Coira's arraignment, Navarro told officers he saw Perez-Coira rape the victim, put his hands around her neck and choke her until she was unconscious.
Noble said the incident was not reported as a rape or murder and that police found Burns after she had been reported missing.
On Friday morning, blood could be seen on a white headboard just outside the garage.
The building's porch had yellow police tape around it, and tape also had been stretched across the intersection of Lafayette and White streets. Lafayette Street is a small block off Clinton Street and Bethune Boulevard in the Hill section of the village.
Navarro told The Journal News that Perez-Coira showed up from time to time at the Lafayette Street house to cook dinner, drink beer and keep warm. He said he would see Burns on the porch at the house occasionally as well.
"It's a shame this kind of stuff happens," Navarro said. "Who knows a killer? I'm blown away by this."
Police charged Perez-Coira with second-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree criminal sex act. The murder charge carries a prison sentence from 15 to 25 years to life.
Village Justice Djinsad Desir ordered Perez-Coira held without bail in the county jail after the morning arraignment. The muscular suspect appeared in court with his hands cuffed behind his back, dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans.
The judge said Perez-Coira would be assigned a public defender and adjourned the case until Jan. 2 for a preliminary felony hearing, although a grand jury is expected to hear the evidence next week. An indictment would cancel the felony hearing and move the case to City Court in New City.
Toxicology tests were done on both Perez-Coira and Burns.
The Rockland Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy, but Burns' official cause of death and other information will not be released until after next week's grand jury review of the case, Noble said.
Noble said the investigation leading to Perez-Coira's arrest took some time after Burns' body was found.
"We've been working 17-18 straight hours" leading up to the arrest, Noble said.
No one answered the door at Perez-Coira's mother's Lakeview Village apartment on Friday afternoon.
John King, who takes care of an elderly woman at the complex, was saddened by Burns' death. "I'm upset the girl is gone," he said.
The homicide is the fifth in Rockland this year and the second in Spring Valley, where police recently charged a mother with murder in the strangulation death of her newborn son.