Ex-Convict Arrested in Stabbing of Brooklyn Children
A man with an extensive criminal record who was released from prison less than two weeks ago was arrested Wednesday night in connection with the stabbing death of a 6-year-old Brooklyn boy, hours after investigators used forensic evidence to identify a suspect, the authorities said.
The arrest of the man, Daniel St. Hubert, 27, just after 8 p.m. on a quiet street in Ozone Park, Queens — more than five miles from the scene of the killing — came minutes after police officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly identified the suspect, displaying his picture at a news conference at Police Headquarters.
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A memorial for Ms. Copeland.First Victim in a Cluster of StabbingsJUNE 3, 2014
Nicholas Avitto outside the building where his 6-year-old son was killed in an elevator.After Boy and Girl Are Stabbed, Anger Over a Lack of CamerasJUNE 2, 2014
Six-year-old Prince Joshua Avitto, who was known as Boy, 6, Dies After a Stabbing in BrooklynJUNE 1, 2014
Mr. St. Hubert’s criminal record includes arrests for assaults on a police officer and a correction officer, the authorities said. He was released on May 23, said the chief of detectives, Robert K. Boyce. Prison officials said he had served the full length of his five-year sentence for attempted murder and assault. He had been denied a conditional release in September for refusing to complete programs in prison, according to state correction records.
A law enforcement official said early Thursday morning that Mr. St. Hubert had been arrested in May 2009 on charges that he had punched his mother and tried to strangle her with a telephone wire.
Mr. de Blasio, who cleared a packed schedule Wednesday night to appear at the news conference with Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, said no effort had been spared to ensure that the suspect was tracked down.
News of the arrest, which was overheard on police radio at a community meeting in the precinct where the stabbings occurred, prompted rousing applause.
The 6-year-old boy, Prince Joshua Avitto, who was known as P.J., was killed, and Mikayla Capers, 7, was critically wounded when an attacker stabbed them in an elevator of a building on Sunday in the Boulevard Houses project where P.J. lived. Mikayla remains hospitalized.
When he heard the news of the arrest, Henry Alston, P.J.'s godfather, said by phone that he felt relieved.
“It’s great, I’m glad there’s an arrest,” he said. “There’s a relief that he’s off the streets and that no other family will have to suffer what me and mine have suffered.”
Witnesses said that upon hearing the news, Arica McClinton, P.J.'s mother, rushed out of the building where the children were stabbed and threw her hands in the air, triumphantly.
Hobbling toward the 75th Precinct station house with a cane on Wednesday night after hearing about the arrest, Regenia Trevathan, Mikayla’s great-grandmother, said she wanted a glimpse of the suspect.
“I want to see this bastard’s face,” said Ms. Trevathan, a retired correction officer. “He’s not a crazy person; he’s just an animal who does not belong on the face of the earth. I don’t think he’s going to be a happy camper in incarceration this time around; people in prison have children, too.”
An official speaking on the condition of anonymity said earlier that a preliminary match had been made between DNA on the knife used to kill the boy and a profile in the New York State database. At the news conference, the police declined to detail the nature of the forensic evidence recovered.
For much of Wednesday afternoon, an arrest seemed imminent.
Chief Boyce said at a news conference around 2 p.m. that the “case has picked up a lot of steam.” But by night, he returned to the podium at Police Headquarters to say that detectives had yet to locate the suspect and that no arrests had been made.
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That changed in an instant as detectives, who tracked Mr. St. Hubert to Queens, recognized him on the street from the stone-faced arrest photographs of the man that were later shared with the public. The arrest occurred only blocks from one of his former listed addresses. It was unclear what would have brought him to East New York on Sunday.
Neighbors near Mr. Hubert’s former home in Queens said that they had noticed increased police presence in the area in recent days, and that they saw officers in the house’s backyard on Wednesday afternoon.
Asked about Mr. St. Hubert’s mental health history, Chief Boyce said he did not yet have information on it.
For days, the police had been canvassing for witnesses, circulating a sketch of a man said to be the suspect, and going over arrests made nearby, including those for trespassing in public housing, in search of any possible leads in the crime.
With the matching of DNA from the knife to a name in the state criminal database, the investigation shifted to finding that person.
Capt. John Buttacavoli of the 75th Precinct said late Wednesday that when his officers learned the suspect’s name, he received a text from one that said, “We may have stopped him and written him a summons last night.” He did not provide further details.
But even with the name, the suspect could not immediately be located and the mayor and police commissioner asked for help from the public, which had already flooded the Police Department with tips.
“I ask all New Yorkers to help in this investigation in any way you can,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Do it for this grieving family. Do it for all of us so we can be safe.”
The police said Mr. St. Hubert is a suspect only in the attack on the P.J. and Mikayla, and was not at this time a suspect in the fatal stabbing of Tanaya Copeland on Friday. Ms. Copeland, 18, was attacked with a similar knife on a street several blocks from the housing project where the children were stabbed. The police have said her killing may be linked to the attack on the two children.
That killing, on May 30, has drawn increased attention since the attack on the children.
Rochelle Copeland, the mother of Tanaya Copeland, the 18-year-old who on Friday was found stabbed to death a few blocks from where the children were attacked, speaking at a news conference Wednesday. Credit Uli Seit for The New York Times
The stabbings set the community on edge and led to outraged calls by elected leaders for better security in the neighborhood. Only one of the 18 buildings in the complex has security cameras, delaying efforts to get an image of a suspect in the boy’s killing.
On Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio criticized the New York City Housing Authority, saying the agency moved too slowly to install cameras in housing projects, despite the fact that millions of dollars had been allocated by the city for that purpose.
With no video of the attack, a sketch of the man circulated widely in the neighborhood, staring out from lamp posts, parking signs and store windows.
Detectives scoured the area for any relevant videos and witnesses, going door to door in the vast housing project, where more than 3,300 residents live.
Detectives had also lifted fingerprints found inside the elevator where the children were attacked, hoping that the prints of the assailant were among the many prints inside. It was not immediately known if the suspect’s prints turned up there.
But the kitchen knives the killer left behind constituted the main physical evidence. Outside the housing development, witnesses saw the fleeing man drop an eight-inch blade with “Dura Edge by Imperial Knife” written on the side, the police said; that line of knives has not been manufactured since 2004. The same make of blade was left near Ms. Copeland’s body, the police said.
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In that case, there were no witnesses to the killing or the suspect’s flight, only a grainy camera image of a man — of husky build and in clothes similar to those described in Sunday’s attack — running from near the scene. A taxi driver found the body of Ms. Copeland, a popular teenager who played in a community marching band, on the street and called the police.
The longer the manhunt went unresolved, the more nerves were frayed in the area of East New York.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Borough President Eric L. Adams told residents to call the police if they saw the suspect and not take the law into their own hands. He was echoed by Rochelle Copeland, the mother of Ms. Copeland. She also warned her neighbors to stay alert, and not walk around with their attention focused on their phones.
By evening, a neighborhood racked by fear and mourning breathed a sigh of relief.
Jessica Gonzalez, 25, a student who lives just a few blocks from the stabbing scene, said she was elated to hear news of the arrest “because I don’t have to stay scared no more.” She added: “I can go to the park with my kids, I can sleep well, I was locked in my house.”
On the street, two uniformed officers kept up the police line in front of the building where P.J. was killed. The shrine to his memory continued to grow — with candles, stuffed toys, Spider-Man balloons and a hand-drawn portrait of the boy.
Correction: June 5, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the conditions of Daniel St. Hubert’s release from prison on May 23. He completed his entire sentence; he was not paroled. The error was repeated in a headline.
Correction: June 5, 2014
An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of Mikayla Capers’s great-grandmother. She is Regenia Trevathan, not Regeina.
Correction: June 5, 2014
An earlier version of a correction for this article misspelled Mikayla Capers’s surname as Caper.