HOWELL, NJ – A judge ruled last week a Lakewood teenager charged in the October 2019 death of a man whose body was found lying in the roadway in Howell will now face those charges in adult court, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Richard W. English waived Alberto Rojas Hernandez, now 18, from family court up to adult court to face charges of first degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, first degree Murder, third degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose and fourth degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon.
Rojas Hernandez, of Joe Parker Avenue in Lakewood, is being held in the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center in North Brunswick, pending a First Appearance and Detention Hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. Rojas Hernandez has been held in the Youth Detention Center since his arrest in October.
Rojas Hernandez’s uncle, Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas (also known as Omar Rivera Rojas), 29 of Linden Avenue, in Lakewood was previously charged in the killing with first degree Murder. Rivera Rojas was ordered detained pending trial on Nov. 12, 2019 by the Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon.
The Howell Township Police Department responded to a 911 call at about 3:46 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2019, reporting an unconscious male laying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547. Upon arrival, a Hispanic 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 a hit and run event.
The man, identified as Domingo Merino Rafael, 33, of Lakewood, was unresponsive and obviously deceased. MONOC personnel responded and the victim was pronounced deceased at the scene. Rafael was taken to the Middlesex County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where an autopsy determined the cause of death was a Homicide.
A joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Howell Township Police Department determined Rojas Hernandez, Rivera Rojas 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 murder of Merino Rafael.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Howell Township Police Department also credited the Lakewood Police Department and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office for their assistance during the investigation.
If convicted of Murder, Rojas Hernandez faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. He would also be under parole supervision for five years following his release from state prison.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Stephanie Dugan and Tara Wilson.
Rivera Rojas is represented by Joseph Champagne, Esq. of Toms River.
Rojas Hernandez is represented by Carlos Diaz-Cobo, Esq. of New Brunswick.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.