SALEM, Mass. — Sky Stefanelli, who police said is the only eyewitness to the murder of Jeffrey Larkin of Haverhill, took the stand on Tuesday and testified that Carlos Manuel Rivera shot the man, after which both of them drove to Lowell and stayed at a friend’s apartment.
Stefanelli was the only witness to testify on Tuesday in Salem Superior Court, the fourth day of Rivera’s trial for murder.
According to police, on Sunday, May 6, 2018, just before 11 a.m., Haverhill police officers found Larkin, 40, on the ground with a fatal bullet wound in his chest.
Rivera, 42, who police said goes by the nickname “Chin,” was charged with Larkin’s murder, along with additional charges of possession of a loaded firearm and carrying a firearm without a license.
During questioning by Essex Assistant District Attorney Susan Dolhun on Tuesday, Stefanelli said that around the time of Larkin’s murder she was addicted to crack cocaine and fentanyl but that she is sober now and works as an assistant manager of a sandwich shop.
She said 2018 was the worst year of her life and that she was homeless and couch surfing and getting high all the time.
“I was bad into drugs but not so bad that I was standing on a corner selling myself,” she said, noting that family members were caring for her two young children at the time.
She said she bought crack twice that day from Larkin, who was known on the streets as “Dirty” and that Larkin refused to pay her the $10 she needed for gas to return to Lowell after she drove him around all day. She said the money became a point of contention and at one point Larkin threatened to fight with her if she didn’t stop asking for the money.
“Chin was not happy about Dirty wanting to fight a girl and said (Dirty) wasn’t going to put his hands on me,” Stefanelli said.
She said she then gave her mother a ride from Little River Street to Grand Avenue, to spend the night with a friend.
She said Rivera was in the front passenger seat when she stopped on Grand Avenue to help her mother carry her belongings to her friend’s apartment.
She said she then saw Larkin walking on Grand Avenue, talking to himself, and that Larkin starting yelling at her, so she yelled back.
Stefanelli said she retrieved a baseball bat she’d found in the trunk of the car to scare Larkin with it. She said she and Rivera followed Larkin up Grand Avenue toward Emerson Street on foot.
“Dirty was walking away and Chin told him not to move and Dirty turned to walk away and Chin shot him,” Stefanelli said. “I ran to the car and heard another gunshot.”
Stefanelli pointed to Rivera, aka Chin, when asked to identify the person who shot Larkin, aka Dirty.
Judge Janice Howe told the jury the mind does not work like a video recorder and to consider the possibility that a witness can make a mistake.
“A person cannot just replay a mental recording to remember what happened,” Howe said. “Memory and perception are much more complicated.”
Stefanelli said Rivera got into the Kia and together they drove to Lowell, where they spent the night in the home of Stefanelli’s friend, an adult woman with three children.
Asked why she didn’t call police or dial 911, Stefanelli said she had called her mother to tell her to check on Larkin and assumed she would call for help. She later testified that she thought Rivera had shot Larkin in the leg.
Stefanelli said police came knocking on the door that morning and asked her a few questions then left.
She said she returned to her bedroom and found Rivera wrapping a handgun in a T-shirt, which he then stuffed into a plastic bag. She said she took him into the basement and directed him to hide the gun behind some ceiling insulation.
Stefanelli said she eventually got rid of the gun by selling it to a friend from Stoneham who promised to pay her $150, but never did.
Rivera’s defense lawyer, Edward Hayden, tried to poke holes in Stefanelli’s testimony, focusing many of his questions on a week she spent at a rehabilitation center in Plymouth and how she answered various intake questions.
“You told them that you had no known legal issues,” he said, to which Stefanelli said she could not remember. “You didn’t forget about your accessory to murder charge?”
“You were asked if you were a witness to violence, and you said no,” Hayden said, to which Stefanelli replied, “I don’t remember that.”
Hayden pointed out that Stefanelli had failed to mention the baseball bat incident to police, and questioned her about multiple positive tests for drugs when she was under a court order to avoid drugs and submit to random screens.
She said most of those tests were for cannabis, and that she had obtained a medical card to purchase it.