A man accused of murdering his girlfriend at a motel in East Lyme faced a judge and the victim’s family Wednesday.
Avery Hallbrooks is accused of killing his girlfriend and mother of his child, Corina Zukowski, at the Starlight Inn on Flanders Road Monday night. Police said Zukowski was stabbed multiple times, in the neck, hands and chest.
As Hallbrooks faced a judge, you could hear sobs coming from Zukowski’s friends and family, who came as a large group. One person yelled “burn in hell” during Hallbrooks’ appearance.
"She was a beautiful young lady that tried to leave him and he took her from us,” said Phil Rodriguez, Zukowski’s stepfather.
Rodriguez broke down in the courtroom Wednesday. He told NBC Connecticut his stepdaughter dated Zukowski for about two years. The couple had a son together and Zukowski also had two other boys.
"She did notify us that she was ready to come back home. That she wanted to start fresh and move on and be with her boys and he took that all away from her," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said Zukowski was staying at the motel to save money for a place of her own. He was trying to help her start a career in law enforcement.
Her friends said she gave a lot in her relationship with Hallbrooks.
"Everything he had was because of her like clothes, a place to be, food," said Jocelynn Tamer.
Tamer said she was communicating with Zukowski, who she calls a sister, the night of the murder.
"She told me they were arguing,” Tamer said.
According to an arrest report, Hallbrooks called 911 the night of the murder and initially told police he believed a former boyfriend “did something to her.” Hallbrooks said he was trying to get into the motel room when a man ran out of the room and attempted to stab him.
Investigators spoke to a witness who told officers the victim said she and Hallbrooks were fighting Monday, and that she threw all of his belongings out of the room.
"At one point, the victim told Witness #1 that, if the accused came back to the hotel, she would be ready for him with a butcher knife that she was keeping on her bedside table," the court papers read.
Hallbrooks' story changed, according to court documents, when he was further questioned. The arrest report states that Hallbrooks told police he and Zukowski were fighting over his drug and alcohol use. He said he left the room for a while, and when he came back, Zukowski blocked the entrance and swung a knife at him. Hallbrooks claimed that after a struggle on the bed, he loosened his grip on her and the knife went into the victim's neck. He also said "he could not stop the victim from stabbing herself at least four more times."
The court documents say Hallbrooks told police he washed off the knife and threw it in the woods. There Connecticut State Police found a pillowcase with bloody clothing that smelled like bleach. Hallbrooks told officers they belonged to him. He also said as soon as Zukowski fell to the floor, "he used the knife to cut her one time in the neck."
Hallbrooks is being held on a $2 million bond.
Zukowski’s stepfather said her loved ones planned to hold a domestic violence victims vigil in her memory at the Civic Triangle Duck Pond in Waterford at 6 p.m. on Friday.