Lakewood resident charged with murder of man found in Howell

Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office

A resident of Lakewood has been charged with the murder of a man whose body was
found lying on a road in Howell in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced in a press release issued on Oct. 24.

Gramiccioni said Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas, 29, who is also known as Omar Rivera Rojas, has been charged with first degree murder in connection with the death of Domingo Merino Rafael, 33, of Lakewood.

Rojas is being held in the Monmouth County jail, Freehold Township, pending his first appearance before state Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon on Nov. 1. A detention hearing is scheduled to follow that proceeding.

“This arrest was the result of outstanding work done by all the investigators from our Major
Crimes Bureau and Forensics Unit, as well as the Howell Police Department, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and the Lakewood Police Department. The inter-agency cooperation could not have been better,” Gramiccioni said.

Howell police officers responded to a 911 call at 3:46 a.m. Oct. 18 from a person who reported seeing an unconscious man lying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547.

Upon the officers’ arrival, a Hispanic male was found lying face down in the road. The incident was initially investigated as a fatal hit and run motor vehicle incident. Investigators subsequently determined the incident was not a hit and run, according to the prosecutor.

The man was unresponsive and obviously deceased. A post-mortem examination determined the cause of the man’s death was homicide, according to Gramiccioni.

In a statement, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said, “My initial impression was this was going to be a challenging investigation. However, as it commenced it was obvious the tenacity of the officers involved from my agency and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office proved otherwise.

“Together, they worked as a unified team around the clock until this was quickly resolved. This is the perfect example of law enforcement working together for a dedicated purpose. I sincerely thank all the officers involved,” he said.

Gramiccioni said a joint investigation determined that Rojas and Rafael traveled from Lakewood to Middlesex County on the evening of Oct. 17 and were returning to Lakewood shortly after 3 a.m. Oct. 18 when they got into an argument that culminated with the killing of Rafael.

Anyone with information related to this investigation may contact Detective Kevin
Condon of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 800-533-7443 or Howell Detective Sgt. Peter Kuppler at 732-938-4575, ext. 2245.