Man charged in murders of mother, daughter faces judge in Worcester weeks after being captured

WORCESTER, Mass. — The man charged in connection with the murders of a mother and her daughter in Worcester earlier this month faced a judge Friday in a Massachusetts courtroom, weeks after he was captured in California.

Dejan Dante Belnavis, 27, was arraigned in Worcester Central District Court on two counts of murder, armed assault with intent to murder, and possession of a firearm without a license in the deaths of 27-year-old Chasity Nunez and her 11-year-old daughter, Zella.

A plea of not guilty was entered on Belnavis’ behalf before the judge ordered him to remain held behind bars without bail.

Multiple court officers were spotted standing near Belnavis as prosecutors outlined the charges against him.

Returned to Worcester shortly before his noon-hour arraignment, Belnavis smirked and nodded in the direction of supporters in the crowded courtroom before he was led out.

Afterward, one woman who made an obscene gesture at our camera said she thinks Belnavis is innocent.

Local law enforcement officials traveled to California after Belnavis’ capture and escorted him back east.

A second suspect in the murders, 28-year-old Karel Mangual, was previously arraigned on charges of armed assault to murder and carrying a firearm without a license. He later returned to court to face an upgraded murder charge and is being held without bail.

Belnavis and Mangual are no strangers to run-ins with law enforcement, according to Worcester District Court documents obtained by Boston 25 News.

The two have faced a slew of violent charges that date back to 2014.

The bodies of Chasity and Zella were discovered in a white, bullet-riddled SUV that was parked in the area of Englewood Avenue in the Columbus Park neighborhood of Worcester.

Court documents indicated that neither Chastity nor Zella was breathing or had a pulse when police arrived.

Sgt. Sean Murtha, Public Information Officer for the Worcester Police Department, said a “fairly high number” of shots were fired into the vehicle.

A motive in the shootings of Chasity and Zella wasn’t immediately clear.

Chastity Nuñez was a member of the Connecticut National Guard and received honors like the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, and the Army Achievement Medal. Nuñez also served as a Patient Safety & Clinical Quality Program Coordinator at MIT Health since July 2023.

Zella was a student at Worcester Public Schools.

Belnavis is due back in court on May 2 for a probable cause hearing.

Karel Manguel is also held without bail and is due back in court for a hearing on April 12.

An investigation into the deaths remains ongoing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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