For Mary Collins’ mother, Charlotte woman’s lengthy sentence for murder ‘isn’t enough’

·4 min read

Kasei Del Pezzo hoped for a maximum life sentence for two suspects accused in the gruesome 2020 murder of her daughter, Mary Santina Collins.

Instead, one suspect pleaded guilty in a Charlotte courtroom Thursday and will spend as many as 32 years in prison. The other entered a not-guilty plea and will go to trial.

“As a mother, it feels like nothing is going to satisfy me,” Del Pezzo told reporters outside of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. “But I want something to be done.”

Collins, 20, was found stabbed 133 times and hidden in a mattress in a NoDa apartment on April 4, 2020.

Kelly Lavery, 27, of Charlotte pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, kidnapping and concealment of a body during an arraignment at the county courthouse Thursday.

Mary Collins was found dead, stabbed 133 times, and hidden in a mattress in a NoDA apartment on April 4, 2020.
Mary Collins was found dead, stabbed 133 times, and hidden in a mattress in a NoDA apartment on April 4, 2020.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Kuehnert sentenced Lavery to 240-300 months in prison for the murder and kidnapping charges, followed by another 60-84 months on the concealment charge.

“That time isn’t enough for me,” Del Pezzo said.

The second suspect, Levi Pham, 23, pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges. His next court date has not been determined.

A third suspect, James Salerno, pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping and concealing a death in April.

America Diehl, who was charged with accessory after the fact and concealing a death, was released on a $100,000 bond in September. Her next court date is July 7, according to Meghan McDonald, spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’ Office.

Kelly Lavery
Kelly Lavery

Mary Collins goes missing

Collins’ family alerted police on March 30, 2020, that they had not seen or heard from her for about two days after she’d taken an Uber to a friend’s place. The next day, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police detective knocked on the door of the apartment where she was last believed to have been. Four days later, on April 3, police issued a missing persons bulletin.

Her friends and family members started their own search parties.

Five days after she’d been reported missing, detectives found Collins during a subsequent search of the apartment. Lavery, Pham, Salerno and Diehl were later charged.

Four people have been charged in connection with 20-year-old Mary Collins’ death.
Four people have been charged in connection with 20-year-old Mary Collins’ death.

Collins had 22q deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome, the second-most common genetic disorder behind Down’s syndrome, according to the International 22q11.3 Foundation. Her family has said her cognitive abilities were similar to that of a 15-year-old.

“It is painful to think that somebody would be so brutal and torturous to somebody who had a disability and was so sweet and loving,” Del Pezzo said Thursday. “There’s no way to wrap my mind around it to make any sense.”

Drugs and a bathtub assault

In court, prosecutors described how text messages between Lavery and Pham detailed the couple’s intentions of murdering Collins because she declined to engage in a “threesome” with them. When Collins arrived at the couple’s apartment in NoDa, they drugged her by putting Xanax bars in her drink, placed her in a bathtub and began cutting her, prosecutors said.

Xanax, or alprazolam, is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. An overdose can cause a loss of consciousness.

The couple denied knowing where Collins was to police and her family, according to prosecutors.

“This girl was so jealous because her soul is so dark that she saw light in my sister and wanted to put it out,” Rylee Bardon, Collins’ older sister, told Kuehnert before Lavery’s sentencing. “We have to start putting people who are deranged away.”

Text messages between Collins and Lavery also showed a history of abusive language and bullying, prosecutors said.

“She was so self-conscious about herself,” Mia Alderman, Collins’ grandmother, said in court. “She wanted friends.”

Lavery addressed Collins’ family in court.

“Mary’s death is a tragedy and I wish it never happened,” she said. “Nothing I say can change the past. Her spirit will never be forgotten.”

Del Pezzo said Lavery’s words sounded “cold” and “rehearsed.”

A ‘wonderful support system’

Collins’ family runs an advocacy group called Mary’s Voice. It has called on legislators to implement reforms that could help others like Collins, including an alert system specifically for when an adult with a disability goes missing and may be in danger. Currently, law enforcement officials can issue a Silver Alert for non-senior adults with cognitive disabilities but it doesn’t always occur.

A painting of Mary Santina Collins outside of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Thursday, June 30.
A painting of Mary Santina Collins outside of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Thursday, June 30.

Del Pezzo’s said her relationship with God, “wonderful support system” and the community is how she will get through this tragedy.

“I have a lot of friends and people who have been there the whole time,” she said.

Helping other mothers who are going through similar situations is one way Del Pezzo plans to help out in the community, she says.

“As a citizen in the community, I’m concerned about all parts of what’s happening here,” she said. “There are murderers walking around who shouldn’t be. What is the message we want to send people? You can do this and you’re not going to do any time?”