By Rebecca Henely
A homeless man and former veteran convicted of killing the so-called Mayor of Long Island City was sentenced to 19 years in prison last week, the Queens district attorney’s office said.
Eric Cherry, 47, was found guilty in April of manslaughter and assault for punching and kicking Nicolas Nowillo, 65, to death after Nowillo had left his home to help a neighbor. In response to the tragic September 2008 crime, Queens Supreme Court Judge Gregory Lasak imposed the almost two decades-long sentence on Cherry, the DA said.
The news came as a relief to Nowillo’s family, according to his daughter, Doris Nowillo Suda.
“We’re truly blessed for the opportunity to have closure in our lives,” Suda said.
Nowillo, sometimes called the Mayor of Long Island City for his active roles in Community Boards 1 and 2 and the Dutch Kills Civic Association, was a U.S. Army veteran and a retired jeweler who had lived in the neighborhood for 34 years.
On the day of his death, a female neighbor, 65, had called him and asked him to escort her home because a man, later identified as Cherry, had been loitering in the area and watching her, the DA said.
When Nowillo came out to help her, Cherry had moved in front of Nowillo’s home at Crescent Street near 39th Avenue and began striking and kicking Nowillo’s car, the DA said. Nowillo told Cherry to leave, but Cherry attacked him instead, the DA said.
During the assault Cherry punched Nowillo many times, threw him to the ground and then kicked and punched him until he was dead, the DA said. The medical examiner later said Nowillo’s body had nine fractured ribs, the DA said.
Cherry, a former member of the military who fought in Desert Storm and was last living at the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, at 21-10 Borden Ave. in Long Island City, had a previous history of crime. He had been arrested before on suspicion of cocaine possession, attempted theft and possessing burglary tools, the DA’s office said.
In testimony at the trial, Cherry had claimed that Nowillo had made racial slurs against him, but Suda said during the sentencing that Cherry had apologized to Suda and the family for the crime.
Suda said she hoped Cherry would learn from his experience and become a better person upon his release from prison.
“I really hope that his poor bad choice takes him to something positive and good things in his life,” she said.
Suda said she will remember her father as an organ donor — his body parts have helped more than 50 people. She said she is also planning to become an advocate for others to participate in jury duty after going through the long process of getting justice for her father.
“There’s another family just like me waiting for a trial to start,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.