By Phil Corso and Christina Santucci
Police arrested a Bronx resident on charges of stabbing a 69-year-old Woodside man to death on a Jackson Heights sidewalk near a No. 7 train stop Monday afternoon, but will not charge him with a hate crime, the Queens district attorney said.
Steven Torres, 22, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ever Orozco and criminal possession of a weapon, the DA’s office said. The Police Department initially said he was being charged with murder as a possible hate crime, but the Queens district attorney’s office said that accusation was lifted as the investigation continued.
“The defendant is accused of fatally stabbing an innocent bystander,” Queens DA Richard Brown said. “His alleged actions were violent and ruthless and the charges against him will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Torres was arraigned Tuesday and ordered held without bail before his Oct. 1 court date. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted, the DA said.
Musarrat Chaudhary, who owns a newsstand and stationery store on 90th Street where the stabbing took place, said she first heard yelling before she leaned over her counter to look outside around 1 p.m..
“One man was on the ground,” she said. “And one was hitting him.”
Chaudhary said Orozco was crying out, “Help, help!” in Spanish.
She thought the incident was a scuffle and worried that her glass storefront would be shattered again as it had in the past following a fight on the street.
But when she looked out again, she spotted a crowd that had gathered.
“I saw people running behind him, saying, ‘Catch him, catch him.’”
Two plainclothes officers chased Torres to 84th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, where they apprehended him, police said.
Thomas Oniszko, who regularly sits on a milk crate on 90th Street, said he saw Orozco stabbed three separate times and, in the final blow, it appeared the Woodside man was hit in the throat.
Before he was taken away in an ambulance, Orozco was lying on the ground and taking shallow breaths, Chaudhary said.
“Paramedics pulled off his shirt and he had a wound here,” Chaudhary said, pointing to her neck.
Orozco was taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was pronounced dead soon after, the NYPD said.
Oniszko said he and other passersby believed the attack stemmed from the attempted theft of a cellphone, but authorities are investigating whether anti-gay sentiment played a role, the NYPD said.
Police initially charged Torres with assault as a hate crime and criminal possession of weapons in another stabbing in Manhattan Sept. 12, in which he allegedly attacked a 49-year-old man he thought was making sexual advances toward him, cops said.
Torres allegedly told authorities he believed Orozco was also coming on to him, according to court documents reported in the New York Post.
He said Orozco was making sexual gestures. “I got upset because he opened the door to his car. I took out my knife and poke him four or five times,” Torres told allegedly said, according to the documents.
The paper reported the district attorney said there was not enough evidence to charge Torres with a hate crime in Orozco’s slaying.
Elected officials gathered at the corner where Orozco was killed Wednesday morning to denounce homophobic attacks and to push for a more visible NYPD presence.
“If people do see police officers walking down the street, that may deter them,” said Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).
At Boulevard Gardens, where Orozco lived with his wife, workers described him as friendly.
“He was a really nice guy. He would always say hello,” said Dimitrios Kosmopoulos, who works in the complex. “He had a good heart.”
The buildings’ super, Timmy Shaughnessy, said he thought Orozco had retired within recently and had lived in his co-op for at least 10 years.
The workers said they often spotted Orosco toting cans and bottles to make sure they were recycled, and he would walk through the grounds.
“He liked to be outside,” Shaughnessy said.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said Orozco was headed to a doctor’s appointment with his wife, Alba, when he was killed.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.