By Joy Bergmann
Anya Johnston, the 24-year-old woman indicted for the second-degree murder of her neighbor Susan Trott, 70, last October in an apartment at 95th and West End Avenue, appeared before Judge Melissa Jackson in criminal court Thursday morning. Wearing a beige sweatshirt and trousers from Rikers Island, where she’s awaiting trial, Johnston sat without visible emotion during the five-minute status hearing. She has pleaded not guilty.
Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch updated the judge on discovery efforts in the case, announcing he had recently provided defense attorney Jeremy Schneider with, among other things, “Amazon records of the defendant which show she bought the M48 Cyclone knife found in her possession.”
In a previous court appearance, Schweiloch said that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner had confirmed that the wounds on Trott’s body were consistent with a weapon like an M48 Cyclone knife with its unusual, spiraling blade.
Following today’s hearing, WSR asked Schweiloch if authorities have the actual alleged murder weapon in their possession. He declined to answer.
Schneider told WSR, “I don’t believe that they recovered any knife from her. I think there may be witnesses that say that they’ve seen it at some point. But I honestly don’t believe there’s anything recovered from her that will be presented to a jury in evidence.”
Any trial in this matter is still a long way off, both attorneys say.
Meanwhile, friends of Trott – a veteran advertising copywriter with blue-chip and nonprofit clients – remain baffled by the killing inside her 14th floor apartment at 710 West End Avenue, where she lived alone.
“I don’t know what transpired that day that led to the murder,” Eric Boscia, Trott’s longtime business partner and creative collaborator, told WSR from his London home. “I wish I knew more and could stop speculating what happened.”
Court documents and queries to NYPD have revealed a new timeline of events, however incomplete.
Susan Trott was murdered on Wednesday, October 17th, between 5:40 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., according to the People’s Voluntary Disclosure Form, a court filing from prosecutors.
Her body, however, was not discovered until around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 21st after Boscia called police, concerned about Trott’s well-being after he was unable to reach her.
Where was Anya Johnston on October 17th? Her mother Isabel Johnston was apparently wondering the same thing.
According to NYPD, Anya left her 15th floor apartment at 710 West End Avenue sometime on that Wednesday, but did not return as usual. Her mother called police and filed a Missing Person report on Anya around 7:30 p.m. that day.
Some time later, Anya apparently called her mother telling her she would be back soon.
At 10:30 p.m. that night, three NYPD officers wearing body cameras met with Anya and her mother inside their apartment. They spoke with Anya about her day. Partial transcripts in the court record of those conversations recorded from the body cameras show Anya saying, among other things, “I was on the Brooklyn Bridge. I was just taking a walk. I came back because it got cold… It’s been a long day.”
Asked why it was a long day, she responded, “Well, I’m not sure what your version of the events are. So, I don’t, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t want to say a damn thing.”
In response to being told she would be going to the hospital, Anya did not appear to resist. She did indicate she wanted to put on fresh clothes before leaving, saying, according to transcripts of the police body camera footage, “I’m going to change pants.”
EMTs then transported Anya Johnston to Mount Sinai West’s psychiatric unit. Susan Trott’s body would be discovered three and a half days later, on Sunday the 21st.
Police said a trail of bloody footprints led from Trott’s apartment to Johnston’s. Carpet swatches were cut out and submitted for testing. NYPD also confiscated, among other things, a jacket, some pants and a pair of Converse All-Star sneakers from Anya’s apartment.
An October 29th report from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner says samples taken from the jacket, sneakers and pants all matched the DNA profile of Susan Trott. A report from the NYPD Police Laboratory Criminalistics Section says the right Converse sneaker “was consistent” with the impressions made on the carpet.
On October 30th, NYPD arrested Anya Johnston at Mount Sinai West. She was soon transferred to the secure psychiatric unit at Elmhurst Hospital where she was arraigned via video link on November 2nd on second-degree murder charges. She pleaded not guilty. Her medical status stabilized sufficiently to allow for her current placement in the general women’s population at Rikers.
Johnston’s mental health remains a pivotal aspect of the case.
Eric Boscia says he’s been speaking with residents of 710 WEA who have described Anya Johnston as, “a highly disturbed person…Anya has always had ‘issues’ according to other people in the building.”
Defense attorney Schneider says that his client has “an extensive mental health history, going back probably 20 years.” He confirmed reports that Anya was adopted from a Russian orphanage as a preschooler and later attended Winston Prep, a private school in Chelsea for students with learning disabilities. Asked if he will pursue an insanity defense, Schneider told WSR, “We’re investigating that as a possibility.”
The question of motive continues to confound. Although initial media reports mentioned the idea of Anya perhaps having been caught in the act of burglarizing Susan’s apartment, the indictment has no burglary-related charges.
“Sue never mentioned [Anya] by name,” Boscia says, “but had said a woman was assaulting her and had been stealing from her.”
If Anya was in the midst of a theft when the confrontation happened, Boscia believes that Susan would have been sensitive to Anya’s purported agitated state. “Sue wouldn’t have been mad. [She] would have offered her something.”
Boscia says his contacts in the building report that fellow co-op shareholders feel terrible for Anya’s mother, Isabel. “Sue and her mother [knew] each other for decades…and [had known] Anya ever since her mother adopted her.”
Asked if there was anything he’d like Upper West Siders to know about his friend, something that wasn’t mentioned in the initial coverage around her death, he replied, “There is a lot. Yes, she wasn’t always easy to get along with. But she had the biggest heart of anyone I know. Whether it be towards people in trouble, animals or her friends. Myself and other friends think she might have been helping Anya or her mother, and something went wrong.”
Boscia started a GoFundMe campaign to establish a “Sue Trott Memorial Park Bench” in Riverside Park where she spent countless hours feeding her beloved birds and squirrels. He calls the effort, “a lovely, local way to keep Sue’s presence alive.”