North Queens murders increase slightly in ‘03

By Courtney Dentch

While the city’s law enforcement leaders continue to tout an overall drop in crime in both the city and the borough in 2003, Queens had a 28 percent increase in murders during the year.

Citywide, total crime through Dec. 28 fell 5.2 percent when compared with the same period in 2002. The city numbers include a 6.6 percent drop for Patrol Borough Queens South and a 7.1 percent decrease in Patrol Borough Queens North, according to police statistics for the same time span.

Yet the city recorded a 0.8 percent increase in murders — a total of 586 homicides through Dec. 28. Queens South, which encompasses the 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 105th, 106th, 107th and 113th precincts, reported 86 killings through Dec. 28, a 40.9 percent jump over the 61 that occurred during the same period in 2002.

Queens North, covering the 104th, 108th, 109th, 110th, 111th, 112th, 114th and 115th precincts, had a slight uptick of 5.8 percent in murders through Dec. 28, an increase of two slayings over the 34 reported during the same time in 2002, according to police statistics.

The largest jump in both the borough and the city came from the 103rd Precinct in Jamaica. The precinct reported a 123 percent spike in murders, from the 13 reported in 2002 through Dec. 28, to the 29 recorded during the same time last year, according to police statistics. The murder rate in that area is worse than it was 10 years ago, the numbers show.

“We’re having a bad time in the 103rd,” said Donna Clopton, president of the precinct community council covering Jamaica. “I think people feel more free to carry weapons. They don’t fear as much being stopped as before when we had more police visibility.”

The figures include the quadruple stabbing inside a 139th Street home that left a family dead in September. No arrests have been made in the killings of Sharrice Nelson, 21, Robert Armstead, 73, James Armstead, 79, and Hattie Morris, 81.

Queens also bore witness to a family’s grief when a 13-year-old boy walked into his Cambria Heights home in June to find his parents and aunt shot dead. Caren Chambers, 34, her husband Larie Barnes, 39, and her sister Tisha Chambers, 21, were killed by intruders who police believe may have been looking for marijuana.

2003 began with the brutal killing of a Fresh Meadows mother and her 7-year-old daughter. The jealous boyfriend of the woman stabbed her, her husband and her two daughters before trying to commit suicide himself. The husband and the second daughter recovered from their injuries, and the boyfriend was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison late last year.

For the borough’s courts, 2003 started with the mastermind behind the 2000 Wendy’s massacre being sentenced to death. John Taylor was convicted in November 2002 of killing Jean Auguste, 27, of Brooklyn, Anita Smith, 22, of South Jamaica, Ramon Nazario, 44, of Flushing, Ali Ibadat, 40, of Ridgewood, and Jeremy Mele, 18, of Neptune, N.J., while robbing a Flushing Wendy’s restaurant with his mentally-retarded accomplice, Craig Godineaux. Godineaux, 32, pleaded guilty and is currently serving a life sentence.

Just weeks after Taylor’s formal sentencing hearing, former Councilman Sheldon Leffler was indicted on campaign finance fraud charges. Leffler, a politician who earned a reputation for integrity while representing northeast Queens for 24 years, was convicted of the felony charges by a Manhattan jury in November for trying to defraud the city of $40,000 by abusing its matching funds program.

And in December, a Long Island City man was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for shooting two police officers during a gun battle inside the Ravenswood Houses nearly a decade ago. Sean Pritchett, 35, was convicted of opening fire on four officers who tried to arrest him in 1995.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.