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‘One of the most depraved cases’: Family of young woman lured to apartment and stabbed 133 times is incensed after alleged killer gets out on bond

James Salerno (L) and Mary Collins

James Salerno, left, and Mary Collins, right. (Mecklenburg County Jail; screengrab/WSOC)

The family of a young, intellectually disabled woman brutally murdered and stuffed inside a mattress in North Carolina is incensed after one of her alleged killers was allowed out on bond.

Mary Collins was 21 when she was stabbed 133 times at an apartment in the NoDa neighborhood of Charlotte. Her body was found – hidden and covered in plastic wrap – on April 4, 2020.

Four people have been charged in her murder.

Her family says she had roughly the mental capacity of a 15-year-old due to her diagnosis of 22q deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge Syndrome, said to be the second-most common genetic disorder behind Down’s Syndrome.

On Saturday, James Salerno, 22, posted $250,000 bond and was released from jail, according to Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office records reviewed by Law&Crime. He is charged with murder, kidnapping, and failure to report/concealing a death.

“They bled her out in a bathtub like an animal in a slaughter house,” Collins’ grandmother, Mia Alderman, told the court during a bond hearing in January, in comments reported by The Charlotte Observer. “What he has done … is possibly one of the most depraved cases Charlotte has seen.”

The day after Collins was found, Salerno and two others – Lavi Pham, 23, and Kelly Lavery, 24 – were arrested and charged with the same three crimes. Prosecutors allege that Pham and Lavery, who the woman knew to be her friends, lured her to their apartment and planned to kill her in retribution for refusing to have sex with them both simultaneously, according to the Observer.

Salerno spent over three years in jail and was initially denied bond before he was released. Lavery pleaded guilty last year to her role in the slaying and is serving a minimum 25-to-32-year sentence in state prison. Pham is in jail and awaiting trial. He and Salerno have both pleaded not guilty in the case.

Salerno is likely staying with his parents now, a promise made by his defense attorney at the January bond hearing. The defendant’s legal team insists there is no forensic evidence tying him to the murder and that Salerno lacked any kind of a motive to kill Collins.

Prosecutors have pointed to Salerno’s cellphone, the Observer reported at the time, saying his location data placed him in the apartment when the killing occurred – and afterward. The Notes app on his iPhone also had a list of cleaning products used at the crime scene, law enforcement alleges.

“You have enough evidence to jail somebody, arrest them, and put them in jail and have them await a sentence or a trial for first-degree murder,” Alderman said in comments reported by local CBS affiliate WBTV. “Then they shouldn’t be out walking the street where they can hurt somebody else.”

Later, America Diehl, 18, was charged with accessory after the fact and concealing a death. She was released on bond in September 2021. Diehl reportedly gave statements against Salerno in the case – a point prosecutors and Collins’ family have said is salient.

The state believes she may now be in danger.

“They also gave us no protection, no order to stay away from us or Diehl,” Alderman said after the hearing in which Salerno was granted bond earlier this year. “No electronic monitoring, nothing.”

The angry and grieving grandmother called to mind a familial truth in a recent interview with the paper – asking readers to imagine the most vulnerable member of their family or the one who simply needs the most help getting through the trials of everyday life.

“That’s the person they stabbed 133 times. That’s the person that thought they were just going to go and have fun with friends and (they) bashed her head in, forced drugs down her throat, wrapped her in plastic and put her in a mattress,” Alderman said. “And then she was there for a week decomposed and you never saw her again.”

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