FREEHOLD — Two Lakewood men pleaded guilty Friday in the killing of a 33-year-old man found on Hurley Pond Road in Howell on Oct. 18, 2019, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey announced Sunday.
Omar Rivera-Rojas, also known as “Juan Carlos Rivera-Rojas,” 32, and his nephew Alberto Rojas-Hernandez, 20, both of Lakewood, pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter in the death of Domingo Merino-Rafael, also of Lakewood, Linskey said in a news release. Both Rivera-Rojas and Rojas-Hernandez pleaded guilty Friday before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Marc C. LeMieux, she said.
Howell Police found the body of Merino-Rafael facedown in the road in 2019 and initially believed he was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle crash, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. An investigation revealed the cause of death was homicide — multiple chop wounds to the back of the head, according to authorities.
Both men admitted they had each struck Merino-Rafael in the back of the head with a machete following an argument, Linskey said. The three had been traveling back to Lakewood from Middlesex County when the argument happened, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The Prosecutor’s Office will recommend 22 year in prison for Rivera-Rojas and 20 years in prison for Rojas-Hernandez. Sentencing is scheduled for both men on March 3, 2023. Both sentences will be subject to the No Early Release Act with an 85% period of parole ineligibility, according to authorities.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office was assisted in the investigation by the Howell Township Police, Lakewood Police and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Attorneys for Rivera-Rojas and Rojas-Hernandez could not be immediately reached for comment on Sunday.
PreviouslyLakewood man and nephew indicted by grand jury in 2019 Howell murder
Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected] or 732-557-5701.