By Eric Goldschein
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Back in 1995, Park Slope was already becoming the LGBT-friendly neighborhood it is today — which is what made the murder of Sylvia Lugo and the rape and shooting of her partner, Amanda Leach, all the more shocking.
Almost 17 years later, the crime that rocked Park Slope and caused an uproar in the neighborhood's lesbian community has resurfaced — on the nation's television screens.
On May 9, Investigation Discovery network's "Cold Blood" series premiered an episode that detailed the murder of Lugo and the attack on Leach on July 5, 1995. The episode takes viewers through the original incident to the final apprehending of the murderer a year later.
The episode, "Park Slope Justice," details the crime on two fronts: the emotional toll it took on Leach — who became a prime suspect in the case — and the explosive reaction of the area's LGBT community, which rallied to the cause of finding Lugo's killer. Christine Quinn, now Speaker of the New York City Council and a leading candidate for mayor in the 2013 election, was one of many lesbian activists to take on Leach's cause, as the executive director of the NYC Anti-Violence Project.
"There was always a large, welcoming lesbian population in Park Slope, but the police department wasn't as friendly," Irene LoRe, executive director of the Park Slope 5th Avenue Business Improvement District, told the Eagle. "Today, Park Slope has changed. We know a gay woman is going to run for mayor, we have a black president — both of those things wouldn't be possible back then."
It was in this climate that the shocking crime took place, in the early morning hours after Independence Day. Lugo and Leach were just returning from a road trip when, upon entering their home, they were attacked from behind and forced upstairs by an armed gunman.
The gunman had Leach tie up Lugo before taking Leach into a separate room to rape her. When Lugo struggled free and attempted to save Leach, the gunman shot her in the head twice, killing her. A struggle between Leach and the gunman ensued, with Leach taking a bullet in the leg before the man fled with the couple's car keys, escaping in their car.
As Investigation Discovery shows, detectives were originally suspicious of Leach, having discovered several logistical holes in her account. They soon began investigating Leach as the potential murderer, suggesting that she killed Lugo in a fit of rage before turning the gun on herself.
But while police worked to establish legitimate evidence for a murder charge, the local lesbian community — which Lugo and Leach were very much a part of — was up in arms over a perceived lack of attention for the crime. A sketch of the alleged gunman, based on a description provided by Leach, wasn't released until a month after the incident took place. Rallies, demonstrations and protests were staged in support of Leach and against the tactics of the NYPD.
"The police is a political agency," said LoRe. "The pressure had to be put on them" to find the real killer.
It wasn't until nearly a year after the crime, when detectives were close to arresting Leach for the murder of Lugo, that a man named Alex Villanueva, also known as "Little Gotti," was arrested in a separate shooting. Villanueva was a near-perfect match for the police sketch Leach helped create. His weapon was a ballistic match for the shells found at the Lugo crime scene, and he was eventually tried and convicted for the murder of Lugo.
The episode uses dramatic reenactments — as well as interviews with Leach and others who figured in the crime and its aftermath, including detectives who worked on the case — to reimagine the shocking crime.
Park Slope has undergone drastic changes since the mid-1990s. Alongside continued gentrification of the area, with the arrival of many new boutiques, real estate offices and cafes, crime levels have dropped dramatically. In the 78th Precinct, which covers Park Slope, there has been a 38.5 percent drop in reported rapes from 1995 to 2011, and robbery has fallen 76.8 percent in that same time span. Overall, crime has decreased by 64.48 percent over those 16 years.