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Man Charged in Lower East Side Murder Has Violent Past

By Patrick Hedlund | April 11, 2011 11:57am | Updated on April 12, 2011 6:44am

By Ben Fractenberg, Patrick Hedlund, Shayna Jacobs and Leila Molana-Allen

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER EAST SIDE — As 33-year-old Raul Barrera was arraigned on charges he stabbed his girlfriend to death inside their shared Clinton Street apartment early Sunday, more details emerged about his chilling penchant for violence.

The aspiring PR bigwig turned himself in at an East Village police precinct within an hour of allegedly attacking Sarah Coit, 23, so brutally that her skull was caved in and her internal organs spilled out of her body.

Berrara originally made a break for Penn Station after the attack but decided to give himself over to police following a conversation with his father, who convinced his son to turn himself in, the district attorney said.

Sarah Coit, 23, was stabbed to death inside her Lower East Side apartment early Sunday.
Sarah Coit, 23, was stabbed to death inside her Lower East Side apartment early Sunday.
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"I did something bad," he calmly told officers at the 9th Precinct, according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The confession led police to Coit's badly injured body, after a failed attempt to locate her following a frantic and confused round of 911 calls, Kelly said.

Witnesses said they heard Colt's blood-curdling screams beginning around 2 a.m. Sunday, but were unable to pinpoint where they were coming from because they echoed in the courtyard behind her apartment.

Police initially responded to the building next to Coit's, where one of the calls originated, Kelly said.

"[T]he individual came into the 9th Precinct station house and reported he had done something bad to his girlfriend," Kelly said, adding that police found an arsenal of eight knives inside the apartment.

Barrera was ordered held without bail at his arraignment in Manhattan Monday and is due back in court Friday.

He has a history of violent confrontations at his home, dating back to last year when bashed a man in the head inside the former Murray Hill apartment Barrera shared with Coit, prosecutors said.

Barrera pleaded guilty in February to striking the man in the face with a bottle inside the apartment on East 33rd St. during an early-morning brawl on March 11, 2010. He left the victim, Brenden Lighty, with cuts to the face and bruising around his left eye, according to the criminal complaint.

Barrera, who was released on his own recognizance and ordered to have no contact with the victim, was sentenced to just 10 days of community service for the attack.

Witnesses to Sunday's incident described hearing Coit's frantic screams and pleas for help following what they said sounded like an argument between the two inside their shared apartment at 63 Clinton St.

"I heard a lot of screaming, panicking, a woman yelling, 'Help me, help me,' said Joost Bohnen, 33, who is visiting from Holland and staying in the building next door.

"It went on for 20 minutes. People were yelling, 'Where are you? What's your name? What apartment are you in?' After that, it went quiet," he continued. "There were people going door to door, trying to find her."

According to the criminal complaint, Barrera and Coit had been arguing when he began to tussle with the victim, picking up a knife that had fallen to the floor to use in the gruesome attack.

Barrera's lawyer said his client had known Coit for four years, but wasn't sure they had dated the entire time. Attorney Paul Feinman described Barrera as "upset" and "remorseful," adding that he asked to have his client put on suicide watch.

Barrera turned himself in "because he regretted the circumstances of what happened," Fenman noted. "It's a horror beyond words."

Feinman did not say whether Barrera had a history of mental illness.

The superintendent at Coit and Barrera's Lower East Side apartment building explained that Barrera only moved into the Clinton Street apartment on April 1, but that he hadn't heard any disputes between the two or received any complaints.

"I don't know what kind of tenants they were," said superintendent Jose Ordones. "I saw [Barrera] a few times in and out, and that's it."

Acquaintances of Barrera, who reportedly worked in public relations for an entertainment company, were shocked to hear he could be capable of such a grisly attack.

"He was a very well-connected man in New York and had such a promising career, so I just don't understand what happened," said Mason Smillie, a celebrity stylist who hired Barrera to do PR work on a television project.

Smillie said in an email that Barrera was "personable" and a "very good friend who cared for everyone around him."

"He was quite the gentleman and very focused on my project and extremely hardworking," added Smillie, who splits time between New York and London.

"It just goes to show you can never know what's going on in someone's head."