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April 8, 2008

Peabody murder suspect had threatened victim before, according to court papers

PEABODY — On Christmas Eve, Jessica Herrera and Ashley Fernandes went out for drinks and dinner, then back to their apartment on Oak Street in Peabody.

Her kids were with their father for the holiday, so the two had some time alone together.

But sometime in the early morning hours of Christmas, something went horribly wrong, she would later tell police. Fernandes began strangling and punching her in a violent attack during which he told her she was going to die, she said.

A little more than three months later — and just days before he was set to stand trial in that incident — police say Fernandes made good on that promise, strangling Herrera, 25, then wrapping her body in a blanket and hiding it in a back room of the apartment.

Fernandes, 28, of 7 Oak St., Apt. 9, pleaded not guilty to murder and driving without a license during his arraignment yesterday afternoon in Peabody District Court. Judge James J. O'Leary ordered him held without bail.

Prosecutors had made the same no-bail request after the December incident, but another judge denied the request after a two-hour hearing on Jan. 10.

Fernandes, who confessed to police, showed no reaction as prosecutor James Burbridge read a police report outlining the state's case. At one point, he even smiled at a photographer. His lawyer, Lawrence McGuire, was granted money to have Fernandes undergo a mental health evaluation.

'Please don't kill me'

Details of the couple's troubled relationship emerged from court papers filed in the murder case, as well as in the incident on Christmas and in connection with a restraining order Herrera sought, then dropped on Valentine's Day.

The couple had been living together for about six months, Herrera told police in January. In a restraining order affidavit, she described how they were having sex when "the next thing I remember I was being held on the floor with him punching me, slamming my head into the floor, cursing me to tell me the reason for every single punch." He accused her of cheating on him, she said.

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