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Murder Suspect Had History of Violent Fights With Girlfriend

By Patrick Hedlund | April 11, 2011 9:40pm | Updated on April 12, 2011 6:43am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

MURRAY HILL — The man who confessed to savagely stabbing his girlfriend to death inside their apartment on the Lower East Side had a reputation among his former Murray Hill neighbors for trouble — including loud quarrels with the blond beauty prior to her murder.

Raul Barrera, 33, and Sarah Coit, 23, moved to the Lower East Side in late March after leaving an apartment they shared at 142 E. 33rd St., where they lived for more than a year and a half, neighbors said.

During that time, fellow residents in the building explained they often overheard the two fighting and even listened as Coit cried out during the arguments.

"The screaming was really loud," said Fred Gates, 47, who lives across the hall from the couple's former second-floor apartment, adding he heard Coit say things like "don't, don't" and "stop."

"They were blood-curdling screams."

Barrera was arraigned Monday on charges he violently stabbed and beat girlfriend Coit to death early Sunday morning inside their new apartment on Clinton Street, authorities said.

In March of last year, Barrera was arrested at the East 33rd Street address for bashing a man in the head with a bottle after an early-morning brawl, leaving the victim with cuts to the face and bruising around his left eye, according to the criminal complaint.

"My impression of them, and him specifically, from the very beginning was very negative," Gates said. "I just always thought the guy was trouble."

Gates said that Barrera used to play loud music and often host guests late into the evening.

The building's superintendent said he received numerous complaints from residents on the floor, as well from the tenants who lived above the couple, about late-night noise.

"The neighbors heard they were throwing furniture, screaming, yelling, cursing," said Slavko Miskovic, the building's super since 1990, adding that the tenants directly above the couple's apartment often complained.

"They were saying they're fighting. They could hear them fighting, screaming," he added.

Miskovic said he inspected the apartment for damages before the couple moved out, finding a bedroom door "destroyed" with a large hole through the middle of it and a bathroom door ripped off its hinges like it had been kicked in.

"Something told me I should maybe stay away from this guy," he said.

A police source told the New York Post that cops were called to the couple's apartment in January because of a screaming match.

Witnesses to Sunday's incident described hearing a struggle inside the Lower East Side apartment, saying they listened to Coit's frantic screams and please for help following what they said sounded like an argument between the two.

According to the criminal complaint, Barrera and Coit had been arguing when he began to tussle with her, picking up a knife that had fallen to the floor to use in the grisly attack. He stabbed her so violently that police discovered Coit with her internal organs spilling out of her body, as well as her skull caved in from being struck with a blunt object, the complaint said.

The city medical exmaniner ruled the death a homicide, citing stab wounds to Coit's torso as the official cause.

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" on Monday, adding that he asked to have his client put on suicide watch.

Barrera originally made a break for Penn Station after the attack but decided to give himself over to police following a conversation with his father. Feinman said the alleged murderer ultimately turned himself in, "because he regretted the circumstances of what happened...It's a horror beyond words."

Neighbors at the couple's former Murray Hill building also expressed regret at how it ended.

"She was very lovely, very smart, very beautiful," said Miskovic, the superintendent. "It's a sad thing."

Barreras was ordered held without bail and is due back in court on Friday.