By Betsy Scheinbart
A Brooklyn woman allegedly smothered her brother’s fiancé and then set fire to her Jamaica house during a robbery more than two years ago, prosecutors said last week, but the woman’s attorney contended that her accomplices were responsible for the murder.
Nicki Havner, 27, is accused of murder in the first degree for killing Tracie Harrison, 29, by smothering her with a pillow during an Oct. 23, 1999 robbery, Assistant District Attorney Shawn Clark said in opening arguments last Thursday in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.
Clark alleged Havner committed the murder after she and five men broke into Harrison’s Jamaica home and stole an assortment of electronic equipment.
Clark said Ivory “Joe” Sanders, one of the six defendants, will testify during the trial this week that he saw Havner smother Harrison, who was engaged to Havner’s half brother, Ira Richardson. Sanders, 31, is Havner’s former boyfriend.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, but Havner could face a maximum jail sentence of life without parole if convicted of murder in the first degree.
After describing the scene of the murder and arson at 107-35 164th St. in Jamaica, prosecutors and defense attorney Jonathan Latimer questioned Queens homicide detective Richard Mecabe Friday about his investigation of the case.
Harrison and Havner had once been roommates and close friends, but in September 1999, Havner told police that Harrison and Richardson robbed her and Sanders at gunpoint, stealing a television and audio equipment from their Brooklyn home, according to Mecabe.
Harrison and Richardson were both arrested after that incident.
Sanders and the four other men who allegedly tied up Harrison, robbed the Jamaica home and set it on fire are being charged with second-degree murder because they supposedly committed a burglary at the same time, authorities said.
The men, all from Brooklyn, include Havner’s neighbor, Willis Morris, 40, whom she knew as “Sam;” Kevin Brooks, 31, whose street name was “Nice;” and two men Havner said she met the day of the murder: Charles Robertson, 29, whom she described as “the guy with the glasses;” and Reginald Thompson, 34, whom Havner called “the guy with the braids” in her written and recorded statements to the authorities.
Havner, a short and heavyset woman, wore a long black skirt, teal shirt and black sweater to court Friday. She was not restrained by handcuffs.
In a videotaped statement given to authorities the day after the murder and shown to the jury Friday, Havner said she only wanted to “get her stuff back” from Harrison when she enlisted the help of her neighbor, who owned a red van.
In the video, Havner said she and her boyfriend met “Sam” (Morris) in his van on Oct. 22, 1999. Also in the van were three men police identified as Brooks, Robertson and Thompson.
“I didn’t know that all these people was going to be in the van,” Havner said, and then explained how they all drove to Queens to the home that became her brother’s when their father moved out of the borough.
Havner said in the video Morris stayed in the van and listened to a police scanner while the other men, keeping in touch with walkie-talkies, broke into the Jamaica home, tied up Harrison and then signaled for Havner and Sanders to join them inside.
“When we got to the top of the stairs … I saw her hands and feet tied up,” Havner said about Harrison. “Her face was in the covers – all I could see was duct tape around her head and she just had a T-shirt on, and nothing else.”
There was no evidence that Harrison was sexually assaulted, prosecutors said. It was not known why or how she became partially undressed.
In the video Havner said Robertson informed her that Harrison had been killed by saying: “We had to put her to sleep.” Havner said she did not ask Robertson any further questions about Harrison’s death.
“They wasn’t supposed to blow the house up, they wasn’t supposed to kill her,” Havner said in the video. “All they was supposed to do was go in the house and get my things… they wasn’t suppose to go that far.”
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.