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Delivered unto evil

People who knew Richel Nova can’t imagine him gone: The doting father, hard worker, and charmer. As for those charged with killing him, some who know them are entirely at a loss.

Prosecutors allege that Alexander Gallett, Michel St. Jean, and Yamiley Mathurin lured deliveryman Richel Nova to 742 Hyde Park Ave. and killed him. Prosecutors allege that Alexander Gallett, Michel St. Jean, and Yamiley Mathurin lured deliveryman Richel Nova to 742 Hyde Park Ave. and killed him. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
Globe Staff / September 12, 2010

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This story was reported by Brian R. Ballou, Jonathan Saltzman, Travis Andersen, and Maria Sacchetti. It was written by Sacchetti.

After a long night delivering pizza, Richel Nova would head home to an austere apartment with bare walls, a couch, and a small television pointed at a brown recliner. The 58-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic spent little on himself, instead saving his change in a large water jug for his twin daughters’ college educations. As soon as they graduated, he planned to return to Bani, the seaside city where he grew up, to rest under a mango tree.

He was just two years away from retirement when he received a delivery order late at night on Sept. 1, a pizza to a house on 742 Hyde Park Ave. in Boston. Inside, police say, waited three young people whose families also came to this country for a better life; they now stand accused of Nova’s vicious murder. In the aftermath of a crime that has stunned the city, Nova’s grief-stricken friends and relatives are praising him for a life well-lived, while friends and relatives of the accused are anguishing over what went so badly wrong.

For most, it is a tragedy for which words seem too small — words like unthinkable, cruel, pointless, barbaric. And the more that emerges about the victim and his alleged assailants, the more unfathomable it all seems.

The Sunday before the murder, Nova was so happy that he danced a little bachata at his sister Ramona’s house in Boston. He had just dropped off a daughter at college, and was there to pick up sweets that his mother had sent him from Bani. He knew his work was almost done.

“He wanted to come home,’’ said his sister Maralis Lugo in a tearful telephone interview from the Dominican Republic. “He wanted to spend his final years here because his girls were strong and on their way. He said he would go into the countryside and build a house. He liked the tranquillity, where you could just listen to the birds.’’

Richel Danilo Nova was raised in a simple concrete block house with a tin roof, the oldest of five children and only son of a police officer in Bani, a municipality of about 100,000 people outside of Santo Domingo. Most everyone there seems to have a relative in the United States.

As a youth, Nova pushed for social change during a time when his home country was afflicted by a repressive government regime and widespread poverty. After a brief stint in college he went to work as a tailor, but in his early 30s it became clear that he would never get ahead on his paltry income. In 1985 he crossed illegally into the United States through Mexico, and quickly found work delivering fruit in New York in the frigid cold. Six months later he moved to Boston to work indoors as a janitor, sharing a single room with his old friend Pablo Guerrero on Washington Street. Eventually, his sisters say, he became a legal resident.

Several years later, Nova met Marilin Pimentel and together they raised a son, Irving, now a 22-year-old mechanic at Logan International Airport, and twin daughters, Marlene and Michelle. The couple later separated, but he doted on the children and refused to work Sundays because his time with them was “sacred,’’ a former supervisor said. He beamed when the twins, now 20, graduated from Boston Latin School and went to college.

He urged every child he met to study hard and go to college, friends said. He valued industry of all kinds, and would save discarded mayonnaise jars for neighborhood children to paint, a means, he believed, of keeping them occupied and off the street.

He kept up with news from his native country, growing indignant when he saw stories about poverty and violent crime, and he would often sing ballads about one day returning. “Mother of mine, don’t cry, I want to return very soon,’’ he would sing in Spanish. “I’m going in search of my future and a worthy life, worthy of you.’’

In recent years he worked two jobs, delivering sandwiches for D’Angelo during the day and pizzas at night. At work, he was an energetic and charming presence, greeting co-workers with a slap on the back and serenading them with salsa songs and boleros.

But the minimum-wage work was notoriously dangerous, and on deliveries, Nova was shrewd and cautious. He refused to step out of his locked car if the lights in the house were off, and called the customer to turn them on. When he left the car, he kept the engine running and the door open, in case he needed to make a quick escape.

“Richie wasn’t the type of person to be too trusting,’’ said Alejandra Madrid, a day manager at Pizza Hut, where Nova used to work. Nova knew which neighborhoods were dangerous and tried to avoid them. A couple of years ago, friends said, a group of thugs robbed him at night and left him with a black eye and a cracked tooth. After that, he tried to avoid late routes, but he recently went back on a Domino’s night shift because he needed the money.

Accused of murder
It was after 11 p.m. on Sept. 1 — his shift was almost over — when he delivered a pizza to the Hyde Park Avenue address., and found the kind of mortal danger he had so carefully tried to avoid. Prosecutors allege Yamiley Mathurin, 17, Alexander Gallett, 18, and Michel St. Jean, 20, lured him inside, stabbed him and, as he lay dying, rifled his pockets for cash. They allegedly took $100, the pizza, and his 1995 green Subaru. The three pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.

In Hyde Park last week, Gallett’s father wore expressions of frustration and exhaustion as he pulled from a plastic bag three books of religious stories he wanted to give his son in jail.

“My boy, he’s a smart kid,’’ said Alex J. Gallett, sitting at the kitchen table inside the apartment he shares with his wife. “I was always telling him to go to the library, read and learn.’’

Gallett, an immigrant from Haiti, said he sent his American-born son to the Caribbean nation three years ago in hopes that he would study medicine and become a doctor. But the boy rebelled. He returned to Boston last year for a medical appointment and he refused his father’s exhortations to return to Haiti.

His decision created a rift with his father, and the younger Gallett moved out to stay with friends. He attended high school in West Roxbury, where friends said he played football.

The father said he had dreamed of opening a pharmacy in Haiti with his son. “Now, I don’t know. My son could be in jail for life,’’ he said. “He liked his friends better than us, and now he’s in this position.’’

He said he himself was shot three times in 1994 by youths while driving a taxi in Dorchester. “The kids that did that, they were just young boys, I think 14 and 16,’’ he said. “Sometimes kids do things and parents don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe my son had two faces.’’

A week before the attack on Nova, Gallett said, his son called him to ask for a ride to a mall for a job interview at a restaurant. After the interview, Gallett dropped off his son on Hyde Park Avenue. He did not hear from him again until he called from jail.

In Miami, St. Jean’s older sister, Tania, a college student, said in a telephone interview that her brother had moved to Massachusetts in July in hopes of studying mechanical engineering at Northeastern University or the University of Massachusetts Boston. He was born in Boston, but their mother raised him and his two sisters in Florida and Haiti.

St. Jean left Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake and stayed with his sister in Miami for a bit while she helped him apply to college and for financial aid. In Boston, he was living with an aunt and uncle and said he was searching for a part-time job to pay for school.

Tania St. Jean said her brother called her almost every day. She said he had a heart problem that made playing sports risky, and he did not like to fight.

“When I read about what happened, I was shocked,’’ said St. Jean, 24. “To the family of the victim, I’m very sorry for their loss. But my brother, he is not a violent person, never has been that way.’’

And in Braintree, a woman who was close to Mathurin when she attended South Shore Charter Public School in Norwell said she collapsed when she heard about the arrest. The girl she knew, the daughter of a single mother who worked as a nurse, “had a light about her.’’ She loved singing gospel music at church every Sunday and Miley Cyrus songs with the woman’s daughter during frequent visits to their home. She described Mathurin as gentle.

“She was kind. She had never been in a physical fight,’’ said the woman, who declined to be named because she feared for her own family’s safety.

She struggled academically, but flourished when she applied herself. She fulfilled a community-service requirement at the charter school by working in a child-care center at the school.

But before the 2009-2010 school year, her mother decided to move to Boston and Mathurin transferred to high school in Hyde Park.

The day after learning of the crime, the woman said she spoke to Mathurin’s mother on the phone, and they sobbed.

“We both said, `What are we going to do?’ ’’ she said.

But one of Mathurin’s cousins, who declined to be named because he did not want to have problems with the other families involved in the case, said he had been worried about Mathurin and her devotion to Gallett, her boyfriend, who had no job. He said Mathurin should have yelled for help as Nova lay dying.

“She didn’t do that,’’ he said.

In mourning
The day after Nova’s funeral, his sisters Ramona and Colombina; his son, Irving; and Guerrero went to his first-floor apartment in a woodsy section of Hyde Park to collect his things. They carried out the giant jug of coins and his old salsa and merengue records. They found signs of the old artist in him — he had created perfect spheres using hundreds of pizza receipts.

On the backs of envelopes, he had jotted some thoughts about poverty and ways to fix it.

Near the door were a few pairs of worn shoes. He had refused to buy new ones.

“Why do I have to have so many pairs of shoes if I only need one?’’ Maralis recalled her brother saying. “He didn’t care about material things. What was important to him were people.’’

Friends and former co-workers believe his street smarts and his sense of kindness collided that night when he stood with a pizza in front of the faded yellow house with overgrown hedges.

A street light blazed above him. Before him stood a girl, not much younger than his own daughters, who allegedly lured him inside by saying that she had forgotten her wallet upstairs.

His family in the Dominican Republic built him a simple tomb, but his relatives here decided to bury him in Everett. In Bani, the relatives he left behind — his elderly parents, Ramon and Gisela, and sisters Maralis and Bernalda — are mourning him with nine days of prayer. They will place a photograph in his empty grave.

“He did not deserve the death they gave him,’’ Maralis Lugo said. “We were hoping to see him one last time.’’

Milton J. Valencia contributed to this report. Maria Sacchetti can be reached at msacchetti@globe.com.

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