Two Lakewood men pleaded guilty to first-degree Aggravated Manslaughter charges stemming from a 2019 slaying in Howell Township.
On Friday September 23, 2022, before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Marc C. LeMieux, Omar Rivera-Rojas, aka Juan Carlos Rivera-Rojas, 32, of Lakewood, along with his nephew, Alberto Rojas-Hernandez, 20, also of Lakewood, both pled guilty to first-degree Aggravated Manslaughter charges.
At the time of sentencing the state will recommend 22 years in a New Jersey State Prison for Rivera-Rojas and 20 years for Rojas-Hernandez, each subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA) with 85% period of parole ineligibility.
The Howell Township Police Department responded to a 911 call at about 3:46 a.m. on October 18, 2019, reporting an unconscious male laying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547. Upon arrival, a male was located lying face down in the roadway.
The incident was initially investigated as a fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle incident.
However, upon the arrival of SCART investigators, it was quickly determined that his death was not the result of an accident.
The victim, identified as Domingo Merino-Rafael, 33, also of Lakewood, was unresponsive and obviously deceased.
Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corp. (MONOC) personnel responded and the victim was pronounced deceased at 4:12 a.m. by doctors at Newark Beth Israel Hospital.
Rafael was taken to the Middlesex County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where a post-mortem examination performed by Medical Examiner Allison Mautone, M.D. and her staff, who determined the cause of death was a homicide.
A joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Howell Township Police Department determined Rivera-Rojas, Rojas-Hernandez, and Merino-Rafael traveled from Lakewood to Middlesex County on the evening of October 17, 2019.
The men were returning to Lakewood in the early morning hours of October 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 that they each struck the victim in the back of the head with a machete.
The cause of death was multiple chop wounds to the head.
Sentencing for both Rivera-Rojas and Rojas-Hernandez is scheduled for March 3, 2023, before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Marc C. LeMieux.
The case is being handled by Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Stephanie Dugan and Tara Wilson.
Rojas-Hernandez is represented by Joseph Champagne, Esq. of Toms River, New Jersey.
Rivera-Rojas is represented by Carlos Diaz-Cobo, Esq. of New Brunswick, New Jersey.