An attorney for the man accused of assaulting drag performer Aloe Vera last month said the two lived together and that the incident was not a hate crime.
S. Philip Steinberg told PGN that Carmelo Villanueva and Vera were “close friends” at the time of the assault April 29 in South Philadelphia.
“My client and the other person involved knew each other well,” Steinberg said via email. “In fact, they were close friends and coworkers who also lived together as housemates sharing expenses. On the day of the incident, they were at work and subsequently socialized with friends and coworkers.”
Vera told police that Villanueva punched her repeatedly in the face and threatened her with a knife. Villanueva is charged with aggravated and simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, harassment and possession of an instrument of crime.
Steinberg declined to comment on why his client allegedly attacked Vera, but stressed that the incident wasn’t a hate crime. “Any inference that this altercation was motivated by hate, prejudice or animus towards a member of the LGBTQ community is just wrong. Mr. Villanueva is certainly sorry that this occurred and that a friend was injured.”
Vera’s jaw was fractured during the altercation, which occurred on the 2000 block of Tasker Street. Villanueva was arrested April 30 and was released from custody that same day after posting bail.
On May 1, Vera underwent reparative jaw surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and subsequently was discharged. Her jaw must be wired shut for several weeks but she’s in “good spirits,” according to a post by supporters on Facebook.
Vera, whose legal name is Anthony Veltre, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Villanueva’s hearing, initially scheduled May 15, was postponed until June 26 due to a conflict for Steinberg. Municipal Court Judge Sharon Williams-Losier will preside.
Preliminary hearings determine whether sufficient evidence exists to hold a defendant for trial. If a judge determines there isn’t “probable cause” to believe that a defendant committed a crime, a criminal case against a defendant can be dismissed at the preliminary hearing.
As of press time, Villanueva hadn’t entered a formal plea of guilty or not-guilty. He faces a lengthy prison term if convicted of all charges.
Steinberg expressed hope that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will closely examine the facts of the case.
“I trust the D.A.’s Office will examine the specific facts of this case and determine an appropriate resolution that addresses the nature of this altercation among friends,” said Steinberg. “Should the proposed resolution be disproportionate to the facts of this case and the conduct of Mr. Villanueva, I will be prepared to defend his rights.”
Ben Waxman, a spokesperson for the D.A.’s Office, declined to comment. “Given that this is now a pending case, we have no comment at this time.”
A fundraiser for Vera was held May 7 at ICandy in Center City, where she has performed. A GoFundMe page also has been established to help raise funds for Vera, who’s expected to be out of work for a significant period of time. As of presstime, $4,222 had been raised.