Trio, including pair from Pittson, accused in Scranton woman’s death

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
- Courtesy of WNEP

SCRANTON — New details have emerged in the suffocation death of a Scranton woman, with two Pittston residents and another man facing charges in connection with her killing.

Nina Gatto, 24, was found dead in her Kennedy Street apartment April 20.

Court documents reveal Gatto had been working as a confidential informant for the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s office, and that a witness told Scranton police that Cornelius Laquan Mapson, of Pittston, wanted revenge on Gatto after he was arrested by Lackawanna County detectives on drug charges following a sting operation in February.

The witness told police Mapson “wanted to murder this crackhead b—— up in Scranton,” who he believed “either robbed him or set him up, and was mad he got arrested,” a criminal affidavit states.

Facing charges are Mapson, 32, and his girlfriend, Melinda Palermo, 38, both of 25 Mitchell St., Pittston; and Kevin Lapage Weeks, 25, address unknown.

Palermo and Weeks are charged with one count each of criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy. Mapson faces one count of criminal conspiracy.

According to criminal complaints against the three suspects:

Gatto’s mother went to her apartment to check on her after not hearing from Gatto that day. She found her daughter on the floor in the bedroom. Police who responded to the scene said Gatto’s cell phone and debit card were missing.

An autopsy performed by Dr. Gary Ross determined the cause of death was asphyxia due to suffocation caused by manual blocking of the mouth and nose. The manner of death was ruled homicide. Ross said it appeared that someone had pinched Gatto’s nose shut while holding their hand over her mouth.

A toxicology screening also showed high levels of fentanyl in her system. Fentanyl is an opioid drug used to treat pain.

Meanwhile, a search of Gatto’s phone records showed she had had frequent contact with a number they later connected to Weeks, which had been shut off shortly after Gatto’s death. Investigation also revealed frequent contact between Weeks’ number and Palermo’s number.

The search also turned up contact between Weeks and a person identified in court records only as a confidential witness. The witness told police the number may have been used by Weeks, who had a friend “K.O.,” later confirmed to be Mapson, who was mad at Gatto and wanted revenge on her. The witness confirmed Weeks and Mapson are close associates, and told police Weeks told her not to cooperate with police and to delete messages he had sent her about Gatto’s killing.

On Friday, detectives spoke with another confidential witness, whose gender was not identfied in the affidavit. That person told police they were present for conversations in which Mapson, Weeks and Palermo spoke about Gatto’s killing and all spoke about fleeing the area.

The witness said the trio talked about the death “for three nights straight,” and that they were nervous about police discovering text messages that would connect them with the incident, and were regretting stealing Gatto’s phone.

“Palermo was mad because she wanted it to look like a drug overdose and people would start asking questions about the missing phone,” the witness told police, adding they disposed of the phone that night.

The witness also said Palermo admitted to giving Gatto fentanyl to make her death look like an overdose.

“This girl thinks I’m shooting her up with dope, but it’s pure fentanyl,” the witness quoted Palermo as saying.

The witness also said Mapson was worried that Weeks would talk, and that the two men had a physical altercation in the witness’s home.

Mapson was the mastermind of the plan, the witness said, because he wanted to make sure Gatto couldn’t testify against him in his drug case. Mapson also said he wasn’t worried about fingerprints, but that he feared Palermo’s hair “gets everywhere” and might be found at the scene.

Duryea police encountered Mapson and Palermo during a routine patrol at 9:50 p.m. Thursday on Swetland Street, observed unspecified “suspicious activity,” and approached the pair.

Palermo was taken into custody without incident and initially gave a false address, police said. Mapson ran, but he was taken into custody around 11:30 p.m. at a home in the borough. Police said they had lived in Duryea until recently.

Other media outlets were reporting Weeks was in custody but that could not be independently confirmed Saturday night. of WNEP

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]