Prosecutor: Teen Charged in 2019 Murder to be Tried as Adult

A judge ruled last week that a teenager charged in the October 2019 death of a man whose body was found lying in a Howell roadway is to face those charges in court as an adult, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.

Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Richard W. English waived the trial of Alberto Rojas Hernandez, now 18, from family to adult court. There, Rojas Hernandez will face the 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, where he has been held since his October arrest, pending an initial appearance and detention hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 17. 

Rojas Hernandez’s uncle, Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas (also known as Omar Rivera Rojas), 29, of Linden Avenue in Lakewood, was previously charged with first-degree murder in the incident. Rivera Rojas was ordered detained pending trial on Nov. 12, 2019.

The case background …

The Howell Township Police Department responded to a 911 call at 3:46 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2019, reporting an unconscious man lying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547. 

Upon arrival, a Hispanic man was found lying face down in the roadway.  The incident was initially investigated as a fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle incident. However, after an investigation by SCART (Serious Collision Accident Response Team), it was determined that the death was not the result of a hit-and-run.

The man, identified as Domingo Merino Rafael, 33, of Lakewood, was unresponsive. MONOC personnel responded and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene. Rafael was taken to the Middlesex County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where an autopsy determined the cause of death was 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.

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.

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management