By JIM FITZGERALD, Associated Press Writer
Fri Mar 24, 4:43 PM ET

The slashing and strangling of a woman, allegedly by a man hired to wash her deck, exposed a potential danger in quiet suburbs, her friends said: a homemaker alone in a house where a stranger is working.

A prosecutor said in court Thursday that Mary Nagle was in her bedroom April 29, changing into tennis clothes, when the attacker sneaked in, "tearing her clothes off, beating her mercilessly, slashing her with the razor."

Prosecutor Michael Bongiorno gave the account in opening statements in the trial of Ronald Douglas Herrera Castellanos.

He said hanks of Nagle's hair were scattered around the bedroom, and one of the 42-year-old woman's fingers was nearly amputated as she tried to fend off the attack.

"Mary Nagle put up a courageous struggle, but she was no match," Bongiorno said.

Herrera, 30, an immigrant from Guatemala whose visa expired in 2001, faces a life term with no parole if convicted of first-degree murder. He also faces rape, robbery and burglary charges.

Herrera's attorney, Barry Weiss, decided not to make an opening statement.

"We will test all the claims made by the people," Weiss said outside the courtroom. He said he has not decided whether Herrera will testify.

Herrera had been hired by the couple to power-wash the deck of their home in this suburb north of New York City, exposing a common danger for stay-at-home mothers, friends said.

"Everybody I know has changed the way they do things because we feel so vulnerable now," said Diane Vandel of Hopewell Junction. "I just had two men deliver appliances and I made sure someone was home with me."

Herrera was spotted a mile away by a police helicopter. Within a few days, police found his discarded clothes and Nagle's cell phone and wallet, which Herrera allegedly stole, authorities said. Bongiorno said DNA evidence will show Herrera's blood and semen were at the crime scene, and Nagle's blood was on clothes he had worn.

Some of Nagle's relatives and friends in the courtroom Thursday wept. Her husband, Dan, was not permitted inside because he is to be a witness.

"It's a difficult time and it will always be a difficult time," he later told reporters.

The couple's children, a first-grade girl and a fourth-grade boy, are doing well, he said. His feelings about the defendant, he said, were "unmentionable."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Copyright 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.