WEST NYACK, NY -- A 19-year-old homeless Manhattan man who pleaded not guilty to murder and robbery charges Thursday during his arraignment in state Supreme Court in New City, says he was fending off a sexual attack when he fatally stabbed Michael Wimbert on Dec. 1.
Dylan Lentini was the "victim of an unwanted sexual attack," his defense attorney, Walter Sakowski, claimed in court.
The chilling murder has local residents pondering the safety of meeting strangers though Craigslist, and over the Internet in general.
Last year, Jim Gifford of New City sold his motorcycle to an older gentleman via Craigslist. Gifford said he spoke to the prospective buyer on the phone. They met in his driveway and the transaction went smoothly.
"It was good but I wouldn't do it again," said Gifford, who was mailing at package at West Nyack Post Office today. "Incidents like these really instill fear. "
Lentini and the victim met through an advertisement Wimbert placed on Craigslist seeking a roommate. Lentini took a train from a Manhattan homeless shelter to White Plains to meet Wimbert on Nov. 27. The two were living at 68 Demarest Ave. until early Tuesday morning on Dec. 1 when Lentini fled the apartment, calling for someone to call the police for help. Police found Wimbert dead in the apartment on the floor from multiple stab wounds.
Clarkstown police detained Lentini, who had a knife wound on his right hand. Police have recovered the alleged murder weapon, a kitchen carving knife.
Sakowski said the 19-year-old was sleeping when Wimbert tried to molest him. Lentini's attorneys are also investigating other claims of potential sexual abuse at Wimbert's apartment.
"You never know what's behind the dark curtain," said Chris Goodyear, a former cop, referring to meeting strangers over the Internet. "Sometimes people place ads without having the best of intentions."
Law Street Media, an online legal blog, has been keeping a list of Craigslist-related murders since the 2009 arrest of Philip Markoff, aka the "Craigslist Killer," who allegedly shot a message therapist in a Boston Hotel. Markoff committed suicide while awaiting trial. The blog lists 58 killings.
Another group doing research, Advanced Interactive Media Group, LLC, says there have been 86 killings since 2007. The group has launched an initiative to encourage police stations to host Craigslist online transactions.
Valerie Schmidt, a Nyack mother who was with her toddler daughter, was shocked to learn the circumstances of the grisly murder.
"People do that?" she asked, referring to Wimbert's placing an advertisement on Craigslist for a roommate. "I can't even imagine that."
Lentini is being held without bail in the Rockland County jail in New City. He faces a potential prison sentence of 15 to 25 years to life on the murder charge.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.