NEW YORK - An employee of an 82-year-old widow who is missing and presumed murdered testified Thursday that his boss vowed that her luxurious Upper East Side home would be sold only ''over my dead body.''
Irene Silverman, the former Radio City Music Hall dancer who owned the six-story mansion, planned to leave her home to a foundation she established in memory of her mother, said witness Mengistu Melesse.
Melesse's testimony was presented to rebut claims by ex-convict scam artist Sante Kimes, 65, a former Carson City resident, and her son, Kenneth, 24, that Silverman was a friend of theirs who had sold her home to them for a fraction of its value.
The Kimeses are on trial in Manhattan's State Supreme Court, charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy, robbery, forgery and other charges related to the presumed death of Silverman. Her body has never been found.
In opening remarks, Assistant District Attorney Consuelo Fernandez told the jury that Silverman is dead because the Kimeses ''killed her out of simple ordinary greed. They wanted Irene Silverman's townhouse.''
Assistant District Attorney Ann Donnelly asked Melesse whether Silverman was ever interested in selling the Upper East Side beaux-arts mansion.
''She would never sell her home,'' Melesse said. ''She said 'over my dead body.'''
Melesse, who went to work for Silverman in 1992 as her maintenance man, said his boss immediately disliked Kenneth Kimes, whom she knew as ''Manny Guerrin.''
''He smells like jail,'' Melesse quoted Silverman as saying of Kimes.
The witness said he and Silverman, while watching the monitor from the security camera, sometimes saw the Kimeses enter the house.
When Kenneth Kimes came in alone, Melesse said, ''He slid against the wall. He looked like he was hiding himself from the camera. Every time, he comes in like that.''
''Mrs. Silverman looked at him,'' said Melesse, a 32-year-old Ethiopian who speaks in moderately accented but fluent English. ''She said, 'Low-class jerk.'''
Jose Muniz, one of the defense lawyers, objected to Melesse's testimony as ''hearsay.''
Donnelly told Justice Rena Uviller that Melesse's testimony was necessary because, ''It demonstrates that she wasn't selling her house to him and she wasn't leaving it voluntarily.''
Uviller said she would let jurors hear the testimony so they could understand Silverman's state of mind about the Kimeses.
Melesse said Kenneth Kimes was suspiciously curious about the house's employees and their schedules, asking how many people worked there and at what hours. He even asked the name of Silverman's accountant, he said.
When they were arrested July 5, 1998, the last day Silverman was seen alive, the Kimeses had the woman's house keys, her personal documents, and a forged deed that purported to transfer her mansion to them for $395,000.
Melesse said Silverman kept documents about her mother and her late husband Sam, and her Radio City memorabilia locked in her office, just off her bedroom, and no one was allowed in there.
Silverman always signed with a felt-tipped pen, not a hard ball-point of the type used on the allegedly fake deed the Kimeses had, Melesse said.
And on Tuesday, Melesse had testified that Silverman never let even her most trusted employees handle her house keys.
Police arrested the Kimeses on a Utah warrant that alleged they had paid for a Lincoln Town Car with a bogus $14,000 check. It was not until two days later that police connected the pair to the missing Silverman.
Sante Kimes was known as Sandy Chambers when she graduated from Carson High School in 1952.