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Suspect accused of killing woman in NoDa pleads not guilty Thursday

Mary Collins was just 20 years old when she was brutally attacked and killed in NoDa. One suspect, Jimmy Salerno, appeared before a judge Thursday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One person accused of killing a 20-year-old woman in Charlotte's popular NoDa neighborhood in 2020 appeared in Mecklenburg County court Thursday.

Jimmy Salerno, 21, is charged with kidnapping, murder and concealing a death.

In a Mecklenburg County courtroom Thursday he pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor said the state will not be offering him a plea deal.

Salerno is one of four people charged in connection with the killing of Mary Collins.

Mary Collins was just 20 years old and, by all accounts, was lovely, gracious and kind. In fact, innocent is the word her elementary school principal used to describe her. The words vulnerable and sweet came up over and over again when WCNC Charlotte's Michelle Boudin talked to others who knew Collins. 

RELATED: Family of NoDa murder victim hopeful mural, vigil will keep her case in people's minds

On March 28, 2020 – at the start of the statewide COVID-19 lockdown – police said Kelly Lavery and Lavi Pham lured Collins to their NoDa apartment. The couple sent an Uber because Collins didn’t know how to drive.

Pham and Collins had been friends in high school and briefly dated. Pham was now dating and living with Lavery.

“She thought she was going to hang out with friends, and they took her whole life away,” Kara Williams, who was Collins' aunt, told Boudin previously.

RELATED: 'They tortured her and let her bleed to death' | Woman stabbed 133 times, stuffed in mattress in NoDa apartment during initial COVID lockdown

Police believe Lavery, Pham and their friend Jimmy Salerno brutally attacked Collins. The autopsy reports show she was stabbed more than 133 times.

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A fourth person, America Diehl, is accused of helping to clean up after the crime.

Lavery, Pham, and Diehl are expected in court in the coming weeks.

Solerno’s attorney and family had no comment for WCNC Charlotte Thursday.

Contact Michelle at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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