Suspect pleads not guilty in McKinley Houses murder

Photos of Julio Valesquez as a child hang next to images of his brother and sister in his mother’s Morrisania apartment. The three siblings are buried in Colon, Honduras. Photo: Kaitlin Sullivan

Leticia Palacios’ door has three locks. She added the chain lock after her son was murdered in the apartment building adjacent to hers in the McKinley Houses in Morrisania. The day he died, Julio Velasquez had requested coconut and rice for dinner but slept through it.

When he awoke around 7:30 PM on Aug. 29, 2017, he sat next to his mother on the family’s couch, his gaze volleying between his buzzing phone and the window above the couch that overlooked 751 E. 161st St. where his best friend, Salim Wilson, lived on the eighth floor. As his food warmed in the microwave, Valesquez reminded both his mother and father that he loved them. He said he would be back in 10 minutes but before they had passed, a knock at the door told Palacios her son had been shot.

Salim Wilson, 25, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in the Aug. 29 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Julio Valesquez. Wilson swallowed hard as his lawyer spoke on his behalf during the arraignment, gaze cast downward. Palacios scowled from her seat in the third row of the courtroom, sharply exhaling when the plea was read.

Palacios says Wilson used to call her mom. She visited him in Rikers Island, though her son was serving time in a different jail. “He was my family, too,” she says.

Palacios says Wilson and her son had been friends for six or seven years. Last year, Wilson ate Thanksgiving dinner with Palacios’ family in the living room of their two bedroom apartment — an apartment Palacios hopes to leave. Feeling betrayed by someone she once considered family, Palacios fears someone else may come after the rest of her family.

Three months before he was shot, Palacios says her son told her that if anything happened to him, “It’s Dizzy,” referring to Wilson by his nickname.

Prosecutors allege there was a dispute between the men involving pre-settlement money they had received from LawCash — a Brooklyn company that provides lawsuit funding — in a civil rights lawsuit against Daniel Brady and David Terrell of the 42nd Precinct. Terrell has been sued 15 times since 2006 in cases involving pressuring witnesses, among other alleged misconducts. Valesquez and Wilson brought their lawsuit after serving 33 months, arrested in 2014 on murder charges. The cases were dismissed on Sept. 6, 2016 after the sole witness who identified the men recanted.

Regina Wilson, Salim’s mother, believes her son has been framed in response to the two men’s lawsuit against the 42nd Precinct. Dawn Florio, Wilson’s attorney, says her client was likely targeted because he was the more vocal of the two, speaking publicly about the allegations.

“At no time did he ever shoot or put his hands on Julio Valesquez,” says Florio. “They were very good friends.” She says the allegations of the dispute are “absolutely ridiculous.”

Florio says Wilson voluntarily spoke to police, disclosing the discourse of the night of the shooting. Prosecutors say there is video evidence in the case against Wilson, though Florio says surveillance footage only places Wilson in the apartment building, where he was renting a room on the floor in which Valesquez’s body was found. Two people who know Wilson identified him in a photo line-up, “and that could be simply because he was there, not because they were witnesses,” says Florio.

Wilson was already in custody for giving a false name to police when he received the murder charge on Monday. According to his attorney, Wilson gave a false name to police when being questioned in an unrelated incident because he knew he had warrant out for his arrest in New Jersey — for allegedly obtaining a fake prescription — and wanted to “voluntarily go and take care of that situation.”

In the weeks following her son’s death, Palacios she says Wilson never visited. There is no doubt in her mind that he shot and killed her son and for this, she says he will pay.

Both his mother and lawyer say Wilson had left the building to see his girlfriend before the shooting occurred. His girlfriend declined to comment. The case has been remanded for Jan. 5th, 2018 to allow for further investigation.