BY KEITH J. KELLY | A 44-year-old Brooklyn man was formally charged with second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in an arraignment Thursday for the murder near Union Square on Sept. 1 of Imani Armstrong, an IHOP waitress and part-time exotic dancer.
The alleged murderer, Clarkson Wilson, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in New York State Supreme Court. He was ordered held without bail and returned to Rikers Island, where he has been held since his Sept. 3 arrest.
In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Alan Bragg said, “As alleged, Clarkson Wilson murdered Imani Armstrong in cold blood after he waited hours outside her place of employment. My thoughts are with Ms. Armstrong’s family and loved ones, who are experiencing immense pain. We are committed to pursuing full accountability and justice in this case.”
Cops at the time of Wilson’s Sept. 3 arrest said the victim got off her shift at IHOP at 4:55 a.m. and was followed by Wilson, who executed her “in cold blood with one gunshot to the back of her head” at Irving Place and 14th St.
Following Wilson’s arrest, Detective Christopher Rickford of the 13th Precinct told Judge Abraham Clott that surveillance video reviewed by cops showed “the defendant waiting and pacing in front of the IHOP located at 235 E. 14th St. for approximately five hours before the commission of the homicide.”
Rickford said he responded to the scene, and saw Armstrong transported to Bellevue Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Rickford continued, “I reviewed video surveillance which shows the defendant run up behind the decedent and get very close to her on the corner of 14th Street and Irving Place, which shows individuals on the sidewalk reacting as if they heard something behind them. I then observed the defendant running from the scene of the crime.”
Police said the suspect changed his clothes in the subway, and boarded a train back to his apartment in Brooklyn.
Cops said after executing a search warrant at Wilson’s Brooklyn apartment back on Sept. 3, they turned up “two firearms inside of a safe,” as well as “all of the articles of clothing that the defendant was wearing on the night of the commission of the homicide” in “a garbage bag in a closet inside of the apartment.”
Authorities said the defendant’s rap sheet includes 20 prior arrests, including one for sex trafficing.
Armstrong, who was 25, still was listed with a Virginia address but moved to New York area about three years ago. She had had a troubled life during her time in the city, where in addition to her full time job at IHOP she was an exotic dancer under the name “Red.” According to press reports, she had been married to a woman who had recently filed for divorce, in an apparently stormy marriage that family members back in Virginia had not known about.
Two of Armstrong’s young children — a boy and a girl — had recently been taken from her and placed in foster care on Staten Island. She also reportedly had a third baby who was given up for adoption.
In some reports, Wilson was said to be the baby daddy of one of the children, but further details or a motive for the murder were not revealed.
Assistant D.A.s Kristen Baraiola and Sean Flatow are handling the prosecution of the case, under the supervision of Jessica Lynn (chief of Trial Bureau 50) and Lisa DelPizzo (chief of the Trial Division). Jesse Hixon, the D.A.’s senior digital evidence analyst, and paralegal Peter Clancy are assisting the prosecution.
D.A. Bragg thanked Detective Rickford and the 13th Precinct Detective Squad, along with Detective Steven Stiller and the Manhattan South Homicide Squad for their assistance with the investigation.
Wilson is scheduled to be back in court Nov. 10.