Accused killer of Pace student in court

CHELSEA An automatic not guilty plea was entered.

Eyewitness News reporter Phil Lipof says 22-year-old Jeromie Cancel was both smiling and at times agitated during the course of the brief court appearance.

His court-appointed lawyer told the judge Cancel had not been taking his psyciatric medicine.

A criminal complaint indicates the victim, 19-year-old Kevin Pravia, fell asleep and that Cancel, after taking some of the victim's belongings, was about to leave when he turned, placed an electrical cord around the neck of the victim, punched him, put a plastic bag over his face and held his nose until he stopped breathing.

Cancel is due back in court on Friday.

Pravia, an honors student, was found dead in his apartment by his roommate Sunday with the cord wrapped around his neck. Pravia was last seen being helped into a taxi early Saturday after a party downtown.

Cancel was arrested Tuesday on murder charges.

Investigators said that while Cancel was being questioned in an unrelated case, he admitted suffocating Pravia and stealing his cell phone, laptop computer and iPod.

Police said Cancel, who smiled for television cameras as he was being led in handcuffs out of a police station, was homeless.

Cancel's father, Jesus Soto, said his son had stolen various possessions from him in June, and he called police when Cancel showed up at his apartment Monday night.

"You don't take someone's life like that," the father said. "He deserves what he gets."

Cancel claimed that Pravia approached him in Union Square park around 6 a.m. Saturday looking for drugs and that the two went to his apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood, police said. After the slaying, Cancel stayed in the apartment to watch the gory horror film "Saw" before leaving before 11 a.m., police said.

No drugs were found at the scene, police said.

The medical examiner's office said an autopsy was inconclusive and additional tests were being performed to determine what caused Pravia's death.

Cancel told investigators that Pravia fell asleep and he decided to rob him, so he punched the student in the face, stuffed a bag in his mouth and wrapped the television cord around his neck, then suffocated him, police said. He said he sold the laptop on the street after leaving the apartment, sold the cell phone in a store and couldn't remember what he did with the iPod, they said.

Deputy commissioner Paul Browne said police recovered the phone where it had been sold.

Pravia, a sophomore at Pace University, was from Peru, Mass., about 10 miles from the New York border.

Pace officials offered sympathy to Pravia's family. Grieving friends quickly cobbled a Facebook page dedicated to the student and expressing shock over his death.

Pravia was a 2007 graduate of Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, Mass., where counselors were available Tuesday to help staff and students deal with the loss. Principal James Conro remembered Pravia as a "quiet, polite and respectful young man."

"My heart goes out to the family," Conro told The Berkshire Eagle, of Pittsfield, Mass.

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