LITTLE COMPTON, R.I. (WPRI) — When her partner of 17 years was killed three feet from her, Christine Stanley said she watched him taken down to the ground in a chokehold.
She and another witness said as much to police during an interview weeks later. She said it again when she was called before a grand jury in April. Despite her recount of what happened, however, nobody was charged with killing Steven Velozo.
And now she’s speaking out, saying she can’t understand why.
“I lost all hope in the justice system because I didn’t think it was possible for somebody to kill somebody without getting repercussions for it,” Stanley said during an exclusive interview with Target 12.
Stanley is speaking publicly for the first time since her long-time partner was killed last October at a Little Compton house party. It was a going-away celebration for Velozo’s mother. Booze was flowing. Marijuana was found on the scene. Yet nearly everyone interviewed by police remembered the same version of events — up to a point.
According to several witness transcripts reviewed by Target 12, Velozo was visibly drunk when he became enraged about a neighbor he disliked attending the party. Velozo came into the house, mistook someone else for the neighbor and attacked, the witnesses agreed.
The two men tussled, resulting in Velozo pushing his mother to the ground when she tried to interject. Finally, the witnesses agreed some bystanders — including one from behind — grabbed Velozo and took him to the ground. But how the men were holding Velozo is where the witness statements begin to diverge.
Some of them said they didn’t quite remember, didn’t provide a description or weren’t asked by police. One said the man was holding him in a bearhug.
But Stanley and a second witness — who said they were within feet of Velozo when he was restrained — were adamant it was a chokehold, and Stanley said Velozo was unconscious before hitting the floor.
“He wasn’t fighting like they said he was — he wasn’t saying anything,” Stanley said, describing when Velozo was being held by the men. “We were the two people that actually told the truth and told exactly what we saw.”
The witness stories begin to look similar again once Velozo hit the ground. They mostly agreed one of the men stayed on his back for a while before it became clear to everyone Velozo wasn’t getting back up.
“I remember his arm just like going limp,” Stanley said. “And then I just saw his blue face.”
Nearly everybody remembered the blue face, according to the witness statements. An ambulance was called and Velozo was transported to St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River where he was pronounced dead.
“He didn’t even make it to the hospital,” Stanley said.
Little Compton police collected witness statements, but there was little in the way of an investigation until months later when the Massachusetts Examiners Office declared Velozo’s death a homicide. Velozo died of mechanical asphyxia, meaning something blocked his airway.
An autopsy reviewed by Target 12 showed Velozo suffered several blunt force injuries to the neck, along with more to his torso and arms. The medical examiner’s report spurred a flurry of activity among law enforcement to re-examine the issue. The R.I. Attorney General’s Office presented evidence before a statewide grand jury in April.
Ultimately, the grand jury returned a no-true bill, meaning the group decided there wasn’t enough evidence presented to establish probable cause that a crime occurred. It’s unclear exactly what was presented to the jury, as the proceedings are held behind closed doors. But Stanley — who was called to testify — said she left Kent County Courthouse feeling uneasy.
“I almost felt like Steve was the one that was being prosecuted,” she said. “It was all questions about my relationship with him, his drinking.”
Now, as the investigation into Velozo’s death appears to be over, Stanley is worried the world is moving on and her partner is going to be ill-remembered. She’s hopeful some type of justice will eventually be served.
“He was made out to be a monster in all this because he was drinking — he was at a party — but he’s not the first person who drank too much and get out of control,” she said.
“Steve definitely needed to be stopped, but he didn’t need to be killed,” she added.