Cheryl Springsteen was at the wrong place at the wrong time on the day a Forest Hills orthodontist was killed at a playground in 2007, but what she saw could be crucial in the case against the Uzbek immigrant’s accused killers.
Springsteen, a teacher who lived a block from the Annadale Playground where Dr. Daniel Malakov was shot twice on Oct. 28, 2007, took the witness stand Tuesday in Queens Supreme Court and told the jury how she watched the violent scene unfold right before her eyes.
“In the initial moments, I thought it wasn’t real. That’s what I told myself,” said Springsteen, who was walking her dog Molly with her boyfriend that morning.
Malakov’s estranged wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova, 35, and her distant uncle, Mikhail Mallayev, 51, are charged with first−degree murder and conspiracy in the 34−year−old dentist’s death. Springsteen said she got a good look at the shooter’s face when he ran from the scene and gave the police a description of him for a wanted poster sketch. She later testified that she identified Mallayev in a police lineup in January 2008.
Michael Anastasiou, Mallayev’s court−appointed co−counsel, pointed out that she had said Mallayev looked slightly different in the lineup than the shooter, but the teacher reiterated that she was positive Mallayev was the man she saw pull the trigger.
“He looked like the same person, but everyone changes weight and hair styles,” she testified.
Borukhova’s attorney, Stephen Scaring, questioned Springsteen’s reliability and asked if she had seen any coverage of the case in the media. Springsteen said she had not seen any media account of the case against Mallayev, but briefly saw a television interview with Borukhova shortly after the murder, when she was not named a suspect.
“Something made me flick through,” she recalled when she caught a glimpse of the television interview.
Prosecutor Brad Leventhal has contended that Borukhova, who like her husband is a Bukharian Jewish immigrant, paid her uncle to shoot Malakov in retaliation for losing custody of their then−4−year−old daughter, Michelle, to the dentist. Malakov was dropping off the girl at the playground to meet her mother when he was gunned down.
“She accomplished what she failed to do after years of litigation: to permanently and forever deprive Daniel of having a relationship with his little girl,” Leventhal said in his opening statement Feb. 4.
Investigators found Mallayev’s fingerprints on a makeshift silencer left at the playground by the shooter and have cell phone records that indicate he was near the playground around the time of the shooting. Leventhal said the pair had nearly 70 phone conversations in the six days leading up to the murder, but only two following it.
“This defendant pulled the trigger,” he said, pointing to Mallayev. “This defendant called the shots,” he said, turning to Borukhova, an internist.
Michael Siff, Mallayev’s court−appointed attorney, and Scaring both told the jury their clients were innocent victims of a police witch hunt. Immediately after the murder, Malakov’s family blamed Borukhova’s family for the murder and Scaring said the police twisted circumstantial evidence to confirm those suspicions.
“You be careful when you hear witnesses try to spin evidence to make it look like she lied,” he told the jury in his opening statement.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.
©2009 Community News Group
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