East Lyme police say boyfriend confessed to motel stabbing

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Avery Hallbrooks, charged with fatally stabbing his female partner at the Starlight Inn in Niantic on Monday night, called 911 after the incident and said a former boyfriend "did something" to Corina Zukowski, according to a police report.

Hallbrooks, 28, of Bronx, N.Y., later confessed to stabbing Zukowski, a 25-year-old Waterford native, and throwing the knife and his bloody clothing into the woods.

During his arraignment Wednesday in New London Superior Court, Hallbrooks, who acquaintances said called himself "Prince" because of his resemblance to the late music legend, kept his head down. The victim's parents, sister and about a dozen friends sat in the back of the courtroom. A judicial marshal cautioned the group to remain quiet when some of them sobbed and shouted as he was led before Judge Karyl L. Carrasquilla.

The judge set Hallbrooks' bond at $2 million, citing the "apparent strength of the state's case" and statements Hallbrooks had made to police. She ordered a suicide and mental health watch and noted Hallbrooks should not be housed at the Corrigan Correction Institution, where the victim's father, Felipe Rodriguez, works as a correction officer.

Hallbrooks and Zukowski had met in 2009 while she was staying with her grandmother in the Bronx, according to family members. They separated for a number of years, during which she had two children with another man, but had been together for the past two years. They have a 1-year-old son.

All three of the victim's children are staying with Zukowski's parents in Waterford, and none was in the motel Monday night.

"We knew something was wrong six months into the relationship," said Rodriguez, the father, outside the courthouse. "He was very controlling. I was trying to help her."

According to a police report written by East Lyme Detective Jean Cavanaugh, Zukowski, who worked at the McDonald's in Flanders, called a coworker at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Zukowski stated to the coworker, identified in the police report only as "Witness 1," that she and Hallbrooks were fighting, and that she had thrown all of his belongings out of the motel room. Zukowski texted the friend throughout the evening about arguments she was having with Hallbrooks. The witness told police that Zukowski said at one point that if Hallbrooks came back to the motel, she would be ready for him with a butcher knife that she was keeping on her bedside table.

Hallbrooks told the dispatcher during the 10:30 p.m. 911 call that Zukowski was not answering the door and that she had told him her friend did something to her. He said when he arrived, a man in a green hoodie ran out of the room and attempted to stab him.

When police arrived at the Flanders Road motel a short time later, Hallbrooks was outside of Room 242, yelling that he could not get into the room he had shared with Zukowski. East Lyme police Officers Lindsay Cutillo and William Bowyer obtained a key for the room. Cutillo stayed outside with Hallbrooks. Bowyer went into the room and found Zukowski lying on the floor near the door, covered in bedding, with stab wounds to the neck, hands and chest and a pool of blood nearby.

She was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:16 p.m.

Hallbrooks agreed to go to the police department with Cavanaugh to provide a statement, and while they were speaking, he asked if the police had located Zukowski's former boyfriend. It was becoming apparent that he was not being truthful, according to the police report, and he later admitted as much during an interview with Detective Mark Comea and Sgt. Bruce Babcock.

Hallbrooks said that he had left the motel after he and Zukowski fought about his drug and alcohol use. He said when he returned, his key card wouldn't work, so he knocked on the door. He said she opened the door, her right arm behind her back, and blocked the exit after he walked in by putting her back against the door.

Hallbrooks said Zukowski swung a knife at him twice, and that he pushed her onto the bed and got on top of her in an attempt to get the knife from her. He said she pushed the knife toward her neck, and that he grabbed it and cut his right pinky finger. He said when he loosened his grip on Zukowski, the knife went into her neck and she stabbed herself four more times while he tried to defend himself. He said Zukowski, who had been standing at the foot of the bed, fell to the floor and gasped for breath.

"He further stated that as soon as she fell to the floor, he took the knife from her, and while she was lying there, he used the knife to cut her one time in the neck," according to the report.

Hallbrooks said he washed off the knife and threw it into the woods, then called 911. While looking for the knife, state troopers found a pillow case containing bloody clothing, which Hallbrooks admitted were his. The police report does not indicate whether the knife was recovered, though it says the cellphone that Hallbrooks used to call 911 had not been located.

Hallbrooks admitted he had fabricated the story about the former boyfriend because he was afraid and didn't know what to do, according to the report.

Hallbrooks had been granted entry into a diversionary program for a pending drug case but was not in compliance with the program, according to Zukowski's friends. He also had a prior conviction for criminal trespass.

Zukowski's father said he knew that his daughter, too, had experimented with drugs and he didn't want to "sugarcoat" the situation, but said Corina wanted to get her life together for her kids. He said his daughter was welcome to move home at any time but that until Monday, was not ready to leave Hallbrooks. She was staying at the motel while trying to save enough to get her own place, he said.

"He put her in that situation where she couldn't live with us," Rodriguez said. "We tried so hard to tell her, 'You deserve so much better.'"

Zukowski was working full time at the Flanders McDonald's, according to Aliyah Robinson, who recently left her job as a manager at the restaurant.

"She was on the grill, and would make those sandwiches like she would want them made," Robinson said. "Everybody's heartbroken in that place."

Hallbrooks told police he was working part time as a laborer at Bob's Discount Furniture.

Zukowski's sister, Jocelynn Tamer, said she had treated Hallbrooks like a family member because her sister loved him, but that he was not complying with his drug program and didn't seem to want to work. She said on Monday her sister and Hallbrooks were arguing because he was gone all day, and that usually meant he was using drugs.

"I want him to go to jail," Tamer said. "I want him to rot. I want him to suffer just like my sister suffered."

Hallbrooks' case was transferred to the Part A court, where major crimes are heard. His next court date is Jan. 8.

k.florin@theday.com

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