A lawyer for Natavia Lowery, the woman charged with killing Linda Stein, a former celebrity real estate broker and punk rock manager, said yesterday his client falsely admitted to the murder to give the detectives who questioned her “what they wanted to hear.”
The lawyer, John Christie, said the detectives who investigated Stein’s murder invited his client, Lowery, 28, to meet with them in a diner in November 2007. She was then taken to the 7th police precinct and questioned for 10 hours. Lowery had gotten through life by telling people “what they wanted to hear,” Christie said, and she did the same that day, wishing to end the interrogation.
Stein, 62, was found bludgeoned on the floor of her Fifth Avenue apartment Oct. 30, 2007. Stein’s family sold 18C, Stein’s one-bedroom, one-bathroom penthouse apartment at 965 Fifth Avenue, for $1.045 million in August 2008.
Yesterday, the 13th floor courtroom of Manhattan’s State Supreme Court was packed for the opening statements. The case has attracted wide attention due to Stein’s celebrity status — her clients included Sting, Elton John, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, and Angelina Jolie. She co-managed the band the Ramones prior to becoming a broker.
Christie admitted Lowery was guilty of stealing money from Stein, but said she was not someone able to carefully plan Stein’s murder and hide all the traces. She could not have prevented the blood, which splattered up to three feet high, to get on her clothes, Christie said. DNA evidence found on the scene did not link Lowery to the crime.
“Natavia is not a savvy criminal,” said Christie, who acknowledged that his client has a history of stealing. “She is not capable of doing what happened to Linda Stein.”
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon painted a sharply different portrait of the defendant by describing how Lowery repeatedly hit Stein with a blunt, sharp object causing her skull, neck and back to fracture. Illuzi-Orbon said that five-feet-two Stein, who was weakened by her successful breast cancer struggle, “never had an opportunity to shield herself.”
The prosecutor also said Lowery brazenly stole over $30,000 from Stein, including $4,000 that she gave to Boys and Girls Club of America so she could get tickets to the premiere of the movie “American Gangster.” Lowery, dressed in a dark grey pantsuit, took notes during the opening statements.
Illuzi-Orbon said that Lowery’s guilt was further proven by the surveillance footage of Stein’s building, which was airtight, making it impossible for anyone to have entered or exited the building without being caught on video. Lowery was the only person who saw Stein on the day she was murdered, the prosecutor said.
She added that footage will show that Lowery entered Stein’s apartment at 11:56 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2007 only with an envelope in her hands and left at 1:19 p.m. with Stein’s pocketbook, cell phone and a red shopping bag. Lowery returned to the building about half an hour later and asked the doormen for pen and stationery. When she couldn’t get the stationery, she went to Prudential Douglas Elliman, where Stein was a top producer and repeatedly asked a co-worker to go for lunch, Illuzzi-Orbon said, suggesting Lowery engaged in these activities to be visible and create an alibi for herself.
The defense argued there were plenty of people who had motive to kill Stein, including the enemies she had created over the course of her career. Stein’s daughters had financial difficulties and stood to inherit from their mother’s estate, Christie said.
Mandy Stein, who discovered her mother’s body, kicked off the trial with testimony yesterday following the opening statements.
The 35-year-old documentary filmmaker managed to keep her composure over the course of a testimony which lasted for about four hours, but broke down in tears when a tape of a 911 call she made upon discovering her mother’s body was played in the courtroom.
“My mom! She’s dead, I think. I don’t know! Please, help me!” Mandy Stein is heard screaming on the tape.
Mandy found her mother’s body in a pool of blood on the floor of the living room. Linda Stein was wearing a blue North Face fleece hoodie Mandy had given her and Mandy’s running shoes, in which she planned to run the New York City Marathon.
When questioned by Thomas Giovanni, another defense attorney, Mandy Stein admitted her relationship with her mother was “contentious at times,” and that her mother helped her out financially. She said, however, she was not financially dependent on her mother.
Mandy Stein is slated to continue testifying today.