MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The overwhelming weight of grief was palpable in Justice Juan Merchan’s courtroom Wednesday as the family of slain Italian student Rita Morelli confronted her killer, Bakary Camara, before he was sentenced for his vicious crime.
“She was my angel…she was everything to me,” her fiancé, Fernando Vargas, wrote in a heart-breaking statement read aloud by an interpreter during the hearing, as he sat crying in the audience.
Vargas made the grisly discovery of Morelli, whose neck had been slashed, in their East Harlem apartment last November.
Camara, 42, had choked, repeatedly stabbed and raped Morelli, whom he met in 2010 when the two worked in a high-end clothing store in SoHo. Camara worked as a security guard and Morelli was a saleswoman.
Authorities said Camara and Morelli had a brief romantic relationship. Her family, however, said the Senegalese immigrant had grown obsessed with the beautiful, outgoing Borough of Manhattan Community College student and well-liked waitress at the Upper East Side's Caffe Buon Gusto, even though Morelli dismissed the attention as harmless.
Vargas, of Mexico, said he and Morelli had plans to move to his native country, but now without her, and with his unbearable sadness, he’s been unable to get his life back on track.
“I wasn’t there to defend her and kill that son of a bitch,” he wrote.
Morelli’s relatives, some of whom flew in from her hometown of Pescara, Italy, spoke of their tremendous pain, as well as their love for Morelli, who they described as a passionate, kind woman with a deep love of art and culture.
Her brother, Giuseppe Morelli, choked back tears as he read a letter in Italian from their father, Bruno Morelli.
“There is no reason why my daughter’s life should have ended this way,” the letter, which was translated by an interpreter, read. “Rita never hesitated to help out anyone…she paid a high price for having such a good heart.”
Guiseppe Morelli spoke of his sister's bravery for following her dream to come to America at the age of 30. She had a good life in Italy, he said, but his hardworking, studious sister wanted more.
"She was in love with America,” he said, a place where “she could find more opportunity to learn and grow.”
Her family’s loss, he said, “is beyond measure.”
Camara, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, rape and burglary last month, just days before his trial was set to begin, said nothing during the hearing.
The Bronx man was arrested in December for the brutal attack after a 911 call made from a pay phone two days after the slaying, informing police that a dead body was in Morelli's apartment, was traced to him.
When cops tracked down Camara in his Bronx apartment in December, he stabbed himself in the stomach, and told them, "I killed Rita," authorities said. He then announced that he had a note in his pocket.
Camara blamed an evil spell that had come over him for the murder in the rambling three-page confession note, authorities have said.
As part of a plea deal, Camara was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He faced life in prison without parole had he been convicted of the top charge.
But the judge made clear that he felt Camara would never get out of jail.
"This country and this city need more people like Rita Morelli," Merchan said. "To take a young and promising life in such a brutal way is senseless and inexcusable."