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BY COLIN MIXSON
A fun-loving, 92-year-old Soho woman was allegedly murdered by her roommate on Mar. 8, surprising longtime friends, who described the suspected killer, 47-year-old Enrique Leyva, as a caring, if troubled man.
“I think everybody is absolutely floored that Enrique did this,” said Rachael Marotta. “He was so sweet and kind. I was looking back from old e-mails and texts, and he just loved her.”
Police responded to a 911 call at 6:50 am of an assault in progress at the Sullivan Street apartment between Spring and Broome streets where Leyva lived with Veronica “Roni” Ivins, and found the older woman unconscious, lying face up on her bed, according to police.
Leyva allegedly confessed to murdering Ivins, telling investigators he smothered her with a pillow, before strangling her with his bare hands — “to be sure,” according to complaint documents provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Ivins originally knew Leyva as a friend and neighbor, who lived in an upstairs apartment with his boyfriend, Tony Iannacone, and the couple became deeply involved with the older woman, accompanying her on dinner dates, ferrying her where she needed to go, and going out of their way to ensure the senior’s needs were met, according to another longtime friend of Ivins.
“They would go to movies, dinner, they got very involved in sort of taking care of one another,” said Ruth Halberg, who knew Ivins for 49-years.
Leyva and Ivins eventually became so close that the woman’s daughter, who was battling terminal cancer, implored the younger man to continue caring for her mother after her death, Marotta said.
“She went to Enrique, and on her death bed said ‘I need to know somebody’s going to watch out for my mom,’ ” Marotta recalled. “She picked Enrique, and in my opinion, everybody who knew Enrique and Ronnie were all very happy about that.”
Leyva moved in with Ivins shortly after her daughter’s death in 2016, where he assisted her, while also working odd jobs, and alternated with Ivins paying rent for the apartment every other month, apparently hoping to take advantage of caregiver privileges to assume control over the elderly woman’s coveted rent-controlled apartment after she died, according to Halberg.
“If you care for a certain amount of time for someone as a caregiver, and you have a chance to remain in the apartment after that person passes,” Halberg said.
But even friends of Ivins who were initially skeptical of her close relationship with the younger man were eventually won over by Leyva, who Halberg says proved his faithfulness time and time again.
“Everybody questions when some young man gets involved with a senior, and you wonder what that’s all about, but we became very trusting,” said Halberg. “He just seemed to take tremendously good care of Ronnie.”
But a change came over Leyva about a year ago, when he began taking a new medication for depression, according to Iannacone, and Ivins’s roommate became withdrawn, spending an inordinate amount of time sleeping.
“He was always sleeping,” said Iannacone. “That wasn’t like him. He was sleeping all the time.”
Halberg and Marotta, agreed, with both women saying the medication made Leyva act “like a zombie.”
And while Ronnie was known as a friendly, outgoing woman, she was also known to snap at her live-in helper, who would usually just shrug off her insults, Halberg said.
“If once and a while she was a little sharp with him — because senior citizens can be sharp — I’d say to him, ‘why don’t you say something to her,’ and he’d shrug and say, ‘that’s Ronnie,’” Halberg recalled. “I never saw him lash out, or act violent.”
But Iannacone claims Leyva stopped taking his medication a few days before his sudden act of violence, which he suspected may have been incited by Ivins’s casual rudeness causing the unmedicated Leyva to snap.
“She was nice, but living with her could be difficult,” Iannacone said. “And when she was difficult, she was a different person.”
Leyva’s lawyer did not return calls for comment.