Omar Rivera-Rojas and his nephew Alberto Rojas-Hernandez have pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated manslaughter charges stemming from a 2019 slaying in Howell, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced on Sept 25.
On Sept. 23, before state Superior Court Judge Marc C. LeMieux, sitting in Freehold, Rivera-Rojas, also known as Juan Carlos Rivera-Rojas, 32, of Lakewood, and Rojas-Hernandez, 20, of Lakewood, both pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated manslaughter charges, according to a press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
At the time of sentencing, the state will recommend 22 years in a New Jersey state prison for Rivera-Rojas. The sentence will be subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA) with an 85% period of parole ineligibility.
At the time of sentencing, the state will recommend 20 years in a New Jersey state prison for Rojas-Hernandez. The sentence will also be subject to NERA with an 85% period of parole ineligibility.
According to the press release, Howell Police Department officers responded to a 911 call at 3:46 a.m. Oct. 18, 2019. The caller reported there was an unconscious man laying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547.
Upon the officers’ arrival, a man was located lying face down in the road. The incident was initially investigated as a fatal hit and run motor vehicle incident.
However, upon the arrival of investigators from the Monmouth County Serious Collision Analysis Response Team it was quickly determined the man’s death was not the result of a hit and run event, according to the press release.
The man, who was identified as Domingo Merino-Rafael, 33, of Lakewood, was unresponsive and obviously deceased. Emergency medical personnel responded to the scene and Merino-Rafael was pronounced deceased at 4:12 a.m. by doctors at Newark Beth Israel Hospital.
Merino-Rafael was taken to the Middlesex County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where a post-mortem examination performed by Medical Examiner Dr. Allison Mautone and the staff of the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death was a homicide.
A joint investigation conducted by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Howell Police Department determined Rivera-Rojas, Rojas-Hernandez and Merino-Rafael traveled from Lakewood to Middlesex County on the evening of Oct. 17, 2019.
The men were returning to Lakewood in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, 2019, when the trio got into an argument that culminated with the uncle and nephew killing Merino-Rafael.
During their factual basis both men admitted they each struck Merino-Rafael in the back of the head with a machete. The cause of death was multiple chop wounds to the head, according to the press release.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Howell Police Department credited the Lakewood Police Department and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office for their
assistance during the investigation.
Sentencing for Rivera-Rojas and Rojas-Hernandez is scheduled for March 3, 2023, before