A St. Paul woman who died in her sleep Jan. 12 was actually killed by her cousin as a result of blunt-force trauma sustained during a drunken assault over facial tattoos earlier that evening, according to charges filed Friday.
Zenas Farkarlun, 32, is suspected of fatally beating his cousin Cornella Roybal, 39, at her apartment after she tried to intervene between him and another man, who allegedly insulted his appearance.
Farkarlun, of St. Paul, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree murder, aggravated robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with the violent attack on Jan. 11 that killed Roybal and left another hospitalized. He remains jailed in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
According to the criminal complaint:
Farkarlun and three others gathered at Roybal's apartment on the 100 block of E. Arlington Avenue, in St. Paul's North End, to drink and watch the Minnesota Vikings game.
Just before 11 p.m., Farkarlun became upset because another guest started poking fun at his facial tattoos. He grabbed a machete from the closet, charges say, and struck the man in the face with the flat side of the knife while telling him to "shut the [expletive] up." Farkarlun then turned to the others and reportedly said: "If this guy keeps talking [expletive], I'm going to kill him."
When Roybal jumped between them, Farkarlun punched her several times in the face, charges say. "Then I'll have to kill everybody else for no witnesses," he declared.
Farkarlun ordered Roybal, her live-in boyfriend and the other man he assaulted to dump their cellphones in front of him so no one could call police. He then wrapped the machete in a blanket before fleeing with one victim's cellphone.
Officers responded to the scene soon after, where they found Roybal passed out upstairs — snoring and apparently intoxicated. Investigators photographed injuries to her mouth and face, but did not wake her. Paramedics transported the man Farkarlun assaulted with the machete to Regions Hospital for injuries to his face and head, court records show. He told police that Farkarlun struck him multiple times before fleeing with his cellphone and cash.
The machete was recovered at the scene.
Early the next morning, around 6:40 a.m., Roybal's boyfriend called 911 after he found her unresponsive in the bedroom. An autopsy by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office determined that she died of traumatic brain injury sustained during the assault. Her death marked the city's second homicide of the year.
A St. Paul police spokesman said the department does not have a policy dictating whether to rouse a possible victim of a crime in order to seek medical treatment.
"Cases like this are difficult because the officers had no way of knowing how severe her injuries were," Sgt. Mike Ernster said in a statement. "They appeared to be minor and her boyfriend assured officers he would watch over her … throughout the night."
"Her murder is a tragedy that affects our entire community," Ernster said. "We hope that our work identifying and arresting the person responsible for her death — and bringing him to justice — will provide at least a modicum of solace to her family and loved ones."
The Minneapolis SWAT team arrested Farkarlun on Thursday. In an interview with police, he identified Roybal as his cousin and said she'd invited him to stay with her. He said she already had bruising to her face when he arrived that night and initially denied engaging in any kind of physical altercation. When presented with photos of the other victim's injuries, Farkarlun said he assaulted the man with the machete because "he was acting like he was better than everyone else," according to the complaint.
But Farkarlun continued to deny touching Roybal and accused the other men of causing her injuries.
He has a long and violent criminal record with previous felony convictions for assault, aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery and illegal possession of a firearm. Farkarlun is also awaiting sentencing in a case for domestic assault by strangulation.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648