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Man Accused Of Strangling Neighbor In Botched Burglary

NORTHEAST MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) - A Northeast Miami-Dade man is charged with first degree murder after his neighbor was found strangled in her apartment.

Nelson Santoni, 36, is being held without bond.

According to a police report, Santoni "planned a burglary to the victim's home... (He) was removing valuables when he was confronted by the victim."

The report said Santoni "choked the victim and strangled her with a cord."

Neighbors at the 5-unit housing complex along NE 118 Street were stunned to hear what happened.

"He's a good guy. I don't know what happened. He probably snapped. I don't know. It doesn't make sense," neighbor Patrick Peeks told CBS4's Lauren Pastrana.

Peeks said Santoni was struggling financially.

In court Thursday, when the judge asked whether Santoni worked, he replied he'd been fired and hadn't worked in a month and a half.

Despite money troubles, Peeks said he never would have imagined his friend would resort to violence, especially against the nice woman in apartment 5.

That woman, neighbors said, was Brenda Henderson.

"She was a sweetheart of a woman. She took her business seriously. She liked helping people," Eric Leyva said.

Leyva works a few doors down from Henderson's skin care business.

When she didn't show up for work this week, he feared the worst.

"When I heard that she was missing, I was like, 'Whoa'," Levya said. "Then I heard today she passed away. It's really sad."

The police report said the woman was attacked on Sunday, but her body wasn't discovered until Tuesday.

Santoni was arrested the next day.

Investigators said another person acted as the lookout while Santoni stole items from the victim's home.

Santoni's girlfriend, Carol, says she was questioned, but is adamant she played no role in the crime.

"I went in the car. We were in the car to buy drugs," Carol said. "I never went in the house. I wasn't a lookout."

She described Santoni as a "kind and sweet" man, but said he admitted he'd recently done something wrong.

"He told me that he hurt somebody and that he was going to go to jail for a long time," Carol said.

Police mention a co-defendant in their report, but under "name" is says "To Be Determined."

Santoni is being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center without bond.

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