Man Arrested in Lower East Side Stabbing Death of Former Model
By Patrick Hedlund and Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN — Police arrested a man for the brutal stabbing death of a former model inside a Lower Lower East Side public housing complex last month.
Jomali Morales, 42 was found stabbed multiple times in the elevator of the Baruch Houses on the early morning of Feb. 12., police said.
Markeece Dunning, 19, was arrested and charged with a single count of second-degree murder after reportedly confessing to the crime, police said. He was arraigned Sunday night.
Dunning lives in the Baruch Houses building at 555 FDR Drive, where Morales was found stabbed nearly 20 times, police said.
The victim, a former model who lived on Grand Street on the Lower East Side, was out with friends after work that Friday just hours before she was discovered dead about 5 a.m., her family said. She had planned to celebrate her birthday the next day.
Morales was last seen at a bar on 14th Street about midnight, police added, and family members said they still do not know why she went to the housing complex at that hour.
"She was at the wrong place at the wrong time," said her half-brother, Joseph Vitale, an NYPD police officer, adding he was told Morales met Dunning only minutes prior to the killing. "He must have ran into her in the street."
Morales' mother said she would often come home late, about 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., the couple times each month she went out with friends.
"I still don't know what my daughter was doing there," said Petra Montañez, 70. "She had to be visiting someone."
Dunning reportedly has 11 prior arrests for drug possession, gang assault and trespassing.
"He should have been put away a long time ago," added Montañez, who shared an apartment with her daughter.
"Look at his life. Looks at the things he's been doing this whole time," she said of Dunning's lengthy rap sheet. "He wasn't a nice kid. I'm glad they got him."
The NYPD had offered a $12,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest in the killing.
Vitale said Morales' purse was found lying on the lawn outside the building where her body was discovered.
He advised that those out late at night should avoid the area of the housing complex where the killing occurred, especially with no surveillance cameras installed.
"The closure for the family is almost complete," Vitale said. "The plast piece of the puzzle is to just see him go away — and that's it."
Dunning's lawyer, Enrico Demarco, said his client is "quiet and unassuming" with strong ties to his family. Demarco disputed Dunning's record, claiming that none of his arrests resulted in criminal convictions.
"He just doesn't fit the profile of a person that would commit this type of brutal act," Demarco said.
But Morales' mother said justice would ultimately prevail.
"No matter what, he's going to pay. He's not going to get away with it," Montañez said. "To me he's a demon, and demons belong in hell — and that's where he's going."
Dunning is next scheduled to appear in court on Friday.