Woman Choked and Stabbed to Death in East Harlem

By Mathew Katz on November 25, 2011 10:17am 

The building at 205 E. 120th St., where a 36-year-old woman was found dead on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
The building at 205 E. 120th St., where a 36-year-old woman was found dead on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

EAST HARLEM — A woman found murdered in her apartment Wednesday night was seen with an unidentified man on the night of her death, neighbor said.

The woman, identified in news reports as 36-year-old college student and Italian citizen Rita Morelli, was found at 10:15 p.m by her boyfriend in the apartment they shared at 205 East 120th St.

She had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck and torso, according to the city's Medical Examiner's office. An autopsy also revealed that Morelli had been choked.

Neighbors said they saw Morelli on the night of her death standing on the front porch of the East Harlem apartment building with a man.

Lee Stefanis, 31, who's visiting from Washington, DC, and has been staying in the building with a friend, said he passed Morelli and the man as he headed out for the evening.

"She seemed calm, she didn't seemed threatened," said Stefanis. "It wasn't her boyfriend."

The boyfriend, who worked with Morelli at an Italian restaurant, has been cleared as a suspect, the New York Post reported. Their apartment remained padlocked by police on Friday.

Sonia Soto, 32, who lives directly above their apartment, said she didn't hear any commotion on the night of the murder.

"I saw her when she came home," Soto said. "The last thing she said to me was 'Bundle up, it's really cold.'"

Soto wasn't sure how the killer could have gotten into the building. "The only way is if they're buzzed up," she said.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story said Rita Morelli attended Hunter College. She attended Borough of Manhattan Community College.

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