Days before an Etna woman was killed, her landlord said, he encouraged her to leave the boyfriend who has been arrested in her strangling death.
Wilder Bancroft said he never saw signs of physical violence between the couple, but he often watched Victor Dinino, 33, belittle his girlfriend, Jessica Miller, 31, while they spent time at Mr. Bancroft's or the couple's apartments above the One Higgins Street bar.
"He would just tell her to shut up all the time. He just made her feel worthless, that sort of thing," Mr. Bancroft, 45, said. "I talked to her within the last week. I pulled her aside and I said, 'You've got to leave him.' She would say, 'Well, it's not that easy.' "
Allegheny County homicide detectives charged Mr. Dinino about 1 a.m. Thursday with killing Ms. Miller the day before, saying they did not find credibility in his statement that Ms. Miller had attempted to commit suicide with a belt.
Call logs show that Mr. Dinino called 911 about 1:05 a.m. Wednesday and told the call-taker that he had found his girlfriend unresponsive on their porch steps with a belt around her neck.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Dinino told an Etna police officer that he left the couple's apartment to go to a convenience store and discovered Ms. Miller when he returned. Shortly afterward, detectives wrote, he told the same officer that he had left the apartment to obtain an unemployment check and that Ms. Miller, who was using Klonopin and methadone, was suicidal when he returned. Court records show Ms. Miller pleaded guilty to possessing a controlled substance in 2011 in Butler County.
Police said Mr. Dinino's face was bleeding and that doctors noticed numerous fresh bruises and ligature marks on Ms. Miller's body. Detectives detained Mr. Dinino for questioning.
Mr. Dinino then told detectives that he had gone to a 7-Eleven to withdraw cash that night so he could go to the North Side to buy heroin. When he came back, he said, he walked past Ms. Miller sitting on the porch steps leading to their apartment but did not pay further attention to her because the couple had a "tussle" earlier that night.
He said he ingested heroin, according to the complaint, and then went outside 10 or 15 minutes later, when he saw a belt connecting Ms. Miller's neck to the handrail. "Dinino was unable to explain how the belt was attached to the handrail or what he had to do to remove the belt," detectives wrote, noting that they found a belt on the ground near the stairs.
Several witnesses told police they heard a woman scream from behind One Higgins Street about 12:40 a.m. After an autopsy, police said, a pathologist ruled Ms. Miller's death a homicide, saying the marks on her neck resembled those seen when one person strangles another -- not when a person commits suicide.
Court records show that Mr. Dinino was arrested multiple times in 2009 in Weirton, W.Va., where his mother lived at the time. He was charged twice with violating a protective order filed by his mother. Details of that protective order were not immediately available, and his mother could not be reached for comment. Ms. Miller's family declined comment.
Mr. Bancroft described Ms. Miller as a sweet woman who would offer to do small favors, such as helping to fold his laundry after it came out of the dryer.
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published August 15, 2013 12:15 PM