A man accused of shoving a New York City police officer to his death during his arrest on domestic violence charges pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday in a courtroom overflowing with the slain cop's colleagues and the suspect's wailing mother.
George Villanueva, 42, was held without bail in the death of Officer Alain Schaberger, who fell nine feet and broke his neck while responding to a 911 call from Villanueva's girlfriend March 11.
The girlfriend said Villanueva had threatened to kill her. By the time officers arrived, he had gone to his home. Four officers were all on a small stoop bringing Villanueva to a waiting police car when, prosecutors say, he lunged at Schaberger, who fell over the low railing.
Villanueva's attorney, Kleon Andreadis, said Schaberger lost his footing because he was knocked by another, larger officer and that no one noticed he had fallen until after they were pulling Villanueva down the steps.
"My client never touched the officer," he said outside court. "They weren't even aware that the officer had gone over the rail."
Prosecutors say Villanueva violated at least four restraining orders that called for him to leave his girlfriend alone. He also pleaded not guilty to domestic violence charges including assault.
His mother, Josefa Villanueva, wailed and knelt before TV cameras after the court hearing. She wore a large black rosary around her neck and carried a photo of Jesus and a Bible. She called the precinct officers liars.
"My son is innocent," she cried in Spanish. "I swear by the Bible."
Schaberger's father, Paul Schaberger, said he had confidence in prosecutors.
"This individual will pay for what he did to my son," he said.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, and dozens of officers came to the hearing to show support for their slain colleague. There was not enough space in the courtroom to fit all the officers.
If convicted, he faces life in prison.