The suspect in a small-scale theft had something he wanted police to know, they say: He happened to be the mystery attacker who'd killed a college student, and he'd done it while watching the horror movie "Saw."
But Jeromie Cancel's story sounded so far-fetched that an officer didn't initially believe him, the officer told a court Tuesday. The officer alerted investigators anyway, leading to murder charges against Cancel.
"I really, honestly didn't believe what he had to say. I wouldn't believe that somebody would come in and actually admit to murder," Officer Sean Hynes said during a pretrial hearing. "It just seemed too far out there."
But authorities say Cancel's strange tale of strangling Kevin Pravia proved to be true. Cancel, who has pleaded not guilty, is due to go to trial as soon as this week. His lawyer said he's planning a psychiatric defense that could lead to a conviction on a lesser charge.
Pravia, a 19-year-old Pace University honors student from Peru, Mass., was found dead in his Manhattan apartment with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck in August 2008.
A few days later, Cancel was arrested in Queens after his father reported that Cancel had stolen some video game equipment from him, police said. The father, and later the son, abruptly broached the killing, Hynes said.
According to officers' account of the son's statements, Pravia approached him in Manhattan's Union Square Park to buy cocaine early on Aug. 30, and then the two went to Pravia's nearby apartment to do the drug. Pravia's father, Kevin Pravia Sr., has said a toxicology report detected no drugs in his son's body; prosecutors declined to comment on Tuesday.
When Pravia fell asleep, Cancel set out to steal his laptop computer and other items, and then decided to kill him because "he was bored," Hynes said.
With a television set cord wound around Pravia's neck and a plastic bag stuffed in the student's mouth, Cancel choked him while smoking a cigarette and watching the horror film, according to his statements to Hynes and later to other officers.
Listening to Cancel tell his story from a holding cell, "I just thought he was just bragging _ he was making himself out to be harder than he really was," Hynes recalled.
But the account was so detailed that Hynes told a supervisor, who brought in detectives.
Defense attorney Michael Alperstein noted that Hynes didn't read Cancel his rights or make an audio or video recording of the statements attributed to him, though authorities say other officers later did. Hynes says Cancel blurted out his remarks.
Cancel, 24, plans to pursue an established defense, in New York law, that allows some murder defendants to argue that they were overcome by "extreme emotional disturbance."
If successful, it leads to a conviction for manslaughter, a lesser charge punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The murder charge is punishable by up to life in prison.