Prosecutor: Uncle & Nephew Plead Guilty to 2019 Murder

Thirty-two-year-old Omar Rivera-Rojas (also known as Juan Carlos Rivera-Rojas), and his 20-year-old nephew, Alberto Rojas-Hernandez, both of Lakewood, pleaded guilty on Friday to first-degree aggravated manslaughter charges stemming from a 2019 Howell slaying, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced.

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 for Rojas-Hernandez, the state will recommend 20 years in prison. The sentence will also be subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA) with an 85 percent period of parole ineligibility.  

The case background …

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 male was found lying face down after what was thought to be a hit-and-run motor vehicle incident. However, upon the arrival of SCART investigators it was determined that his death was not the result of a hit-and-run.

The man, identified as Domingo Merino-Rafael, 33, also of Lakewood, was unresponsive and clearly dead. MONOC personnel responded and the victim was pronounced dead 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 the staff of the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office 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 Oct. 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.

— Edited press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office