Prosecutors say they can correctly identify the suspected gunman in last week’s Manhattan bodega clerk killing by the camouflage outfit the now arrested man allegedly wore before, during and after a series of armed deli robberies throughout the city.
Police arrested 39-year-old Kimond Cyrus Thursday morning. He was nabbed in the Bronx by a task force after police got an important tip earlier in the week. An attorney for the man denies his client’s involvement in the crimes and called evidence against him “circumstantial” at an arraignment on Friday.
“The person who shows up on video at the actual crime, is wearing a mask is wearing a white Tyvek suit. I don’t know that’s my client,” public defender for Cyrus, Adam Freedman, said after his client pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
Freedman said the evidence is all circumstantial.
“The person who shows up on video at the actual crime is wearing a white Tyvek suit. I don’t know that’s my client,” said Freedman, who described Cyrus as “very calm” but “upset.”
A “camouflage-style” pant and sweatshirt allegedly seen worn by the man before and after the crimes around his Bronx home, as well as in one of the robberies, tie him to the scenes, investigators said. In surveillance video of one of the robberies widely circulated by police, the suspect is wearing the white hazmat suit, but the zipper is down revealing what appears to be the camouflage outfit underneath. Prosecutors also claim audio captured from one of the robberies is a match.
Cyrus, who has a lengthy criminal including a 2002 robbery arrest, was identified Wednesday night and picked up by cops the following morning, sources said. Another key piece of the investigation was the scooter detectives said he was seen riding after after the armed robberies. A tipster spotted a similar scooter and called police.
NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig confirmed Thursday that the suspect was seen on surveillance footage tossing the painter’s-style coveralls he wore in each incident behind a building at some point after he allegedly robbed a Bronx deli, which cops have said was 22 minutes after he is believed to have killed Upper East Side clerk Sueng Choi.
The suit was recovered Tuesday night about a half-mile from another deli, Essig said, and was being processed.
Prosecutors consider Cyrus a flight risk, claiming the suspect tried to flee the country years earlier while he was in the middle of a trial for an assault charge. He was remanded after his arraignment and is due back in court on March 15.
Bodega workers are calling for change after an employee was shot and killed late Friday. Adam Harding reports. Adam Harding reports.
The suspect is wanted in four New York City deli robberies since late February, though only the one last Friday night turned deadly. Authorities identified Sueng Choi as the 67-year-old victim in what they called a “horrific murder.”
Those leaving notes at a growing memorial knew the man as “Michael,” who has been described as a fixture of the East 81st Street and Third Avenue community.
A witness who had been in the store around 11:30 p.m. that night and escaped the terrifying scene told police the gunman walked in wearing a full ensemble — the kind of white outfit you’d see a painter wear on the job — and a dark mask to conceal his face.
Prosecutors said that Cyrus first walked up to a customer and ordered him to lay down and empty his pockets. The suspect then turned his attention to the clerk, Choi, and started to hit him with the butt of the gun after he didn’t follow his commands. As that attack was happening, cops say the witness ran out of the deli.
Once outside, the witness reported hearing a shot, according to the NYPD. The 67-year-old clerk was found dead behind the counter with bullet wound in his hand and head. The city medical examiner determined a single bullet went through the man’s hand before striking his head.
The gunman was seen fleeing the scene on a dark scooter. In the criminal complaint against Cyrus, investigators claim video surveillance tracks the man between robbery scenes and a residence in the Bronx.
Top NYPD officials say that’s the same outfit and same ride that the man allegedly used in three other robberies, two prior to the deadly Manhattan holdup and then the Bronx one shortly after the Upper East Side slay.
The two crimes that established the pattern happened in Brooklyn. In the first case, on Saturday, Feb. 25, cops say they believe the same gunman walked into the Sunset Bagel Shop on Foster Avenue, removed some amount of money and cellphones and fled the store on a dark scooter. Again he was wearing the dark face mask and painter’s coveralls.
Days later, on March 1, he allegedly walked into the Super Deli on Manhattan Avenue — this time in the late morning — and he pretended to make a purchase. Then he flashed the gun, announced a robbery and stole cigarettes and cash before riding off on the scooter. The Friday night Bronx deli robbery after the Manhattan shooting was similar to that.
The union that represents bodega owners and workers said they were “relieved” to hear of Cyrus’ arrest.
“We are relieved to know that this monster is behind bars. We are relieved because we know that he is no longer a threat with a gun — robbing, assaulting killing our members,” said United bodegas of America Spokesperson Fernando Mateo during a press conference.
“This man deserves life in prison without parole for the string of armed robberies and murder of an innocent Bodega Clerk. Cases like this deserve the death penalty but in NYS that will never happen. Let’s get these criminals off the streets and where they belong,” Mateo also said in a statement.
In all, police said the robber in the Hazmat suit has stolen more than $3,000 cash. None of the other robberies involved deadly violence — and the NYPD says it understands how much the shooting — and the serial robber on the loose — is rattling the community.
“‘We stand in solidarity with thousands of hard-working New Yorkers who earn their living in our neighborhood bodegas,” NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Edward Caban said last week from the scene.
“We are all outraged by this act of violence. Each of us here grew up in this city. We know what the neighborhood bodega means. For some of us, it was like an extension of our living rooms. The clerk behind the counter was like family. It doesn’t surprise me that people have left cards, candles and flowers here,” Caban said.
Mayor Eric Adams weighed in earlier this week, imploring all business owners to have customers lower their masks before entering.
“Let’s be clear: Some of these characters going into stores that are wearing a mask, they’re not doing it because they are afraid of the pandemic,” Adams said, adding that lowering masks would let cameras get better video of faces.
The union that represents many bodegas in the city also pushed for a change in mask policy at all bodegas, at very least having the masks come down temporarily in order to get a look at customers walking in. Some stores may also consider installing buzzers.
The plan will focus on child and family mental health, addressing the overdose crisis, and supporting new yorkers living with serious mental illness.