A 25-year-old mother of two testified against the father of her six-month-old infant in Bronx Supreme Court on Wednesday, as the first witness in his trial on 28 counts of assault, possession of a weapon and attempted murder.
The witness, Vateya Prentiss, covered her face as the prosecutor showed the jury graphic video Prentiss had taken with her iPhone, recording the alleged crime that took place on January 6, 2013. “It’s disturbing. It bothers me, the way I was reacting and everything,” she said when Bronx District Attorney Marisol Martinez Alonso, asked why she had averted her gaze. Across the courtroom, wearing a trim dark suit, the defendant, Rodrigo Neri, 28, looked away as well.
Prentiss testified that she and Neri, her boyfriend of three years, were on their way to a friend’s house when they spotted an acquaintance, Jamell Mungin, standing outside of his apartment building at 863 Melrose Avenue near 161st Street. They saw Mungin run inside and come out again and Neri told Prentiss he thought Mungin had a gun, she said in her testimony. The two men began exchanging blows in a fistfight that Prentiss captured on her pink and white iPhone 4S.
The DA also played two other video clips, both from surveillance cameras outside of the victim’s building.
Together, the footage clearly shows Mungin swinging at Neri with a knife and stabbing him through his jacket before Neri shoved him down the concrete steps in front of his building. Mungin hit the pavement and lay there motionless. Neri, wearing Timberland boots, stomped Mungin’s head half-a-dozen times. Then Neri went up the stairs, calmly walked back down, and sliced Mungin’s face from his ear to his mouth. Mungin later received treatment for a fractured orbital socket and 60 stitches, according to the criminal complaint. Mungin has not been charged in the incident.
“I’m an animal,” Neri can be heard saying in iPhone the video.
Prentiss’s voice can be heard throughout the three-minute brawl, too. “Get that nigga, babe,” she said while continuing to film the altercation. “Get that bitch. Fuck him up.”
For egging her boyfriend on, Prentiss was also charged with assault and attempted murder. She pleaded guilty to the felony of assault with intent to cause serious physical injury, agreeing to testify in his trial in exchange for a sentence of five years probation.
The couple was also arrested for giving a false report to police on the day of the incident. Leaving Mungin lying unconscious in a pool of blood, they took a cab to St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan –rather than going to nearby Lincoln Hospital — after Prentiss noticed that Neri was “leaking blood,” from stab wounds, according to her testimony. They told police at the hospital that Neri had acquired his wounds in a fight at a train station in the area.
At issue in the assault and murder case is whether Neri attacked Mungin with the intent to cause serious injury or to kill. The prosecution will argue that once Mungin was lying unconscious on the pavement and was no longer a threat, Neri crossed the line from self-defense into violent crime.
During a break in the trial on Wednesday, Neri dandled his young son, Princeton, on his hip for a few minutes before handing him over to a babysitter. After Neri left the area, Prentiss held Princeton and then pushed him in his stroller through the airy halls of the courthouse.
Prentiss said she and Neri are still a couple, but by court order, they are not allowed to see each other.
“It was nerve wracking to get up there and show people that video and have them paint whatever image they’re going to see of me based on that,” she said. “But the truth is the truth.”
Prentiss also faces a year in prison for an unrelated charge of assault against a friend, which violated the terms of her plea deal in this case.