YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST: The man charged with murdering a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman was brought into court this morning in Hackensack, where he entered a not guilty plea after being read the list of charges against him.
( PHOTOS by Mary K. Miraglia.)
Superior Court Judge Liliana Davila-Silebbi ordered that Daniel T. Rochat, 37, continue to be held on $3 million bail.
He is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson, disturbing human remains, resisting arrest, hindering apprehension and false swearing.
He is also charged with two additional counts of attempted murder because two people were in Vernieri’s upstairs apartment at the time.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound defendant resisted arrest when he was taken into custody Wednesday night by police who’d been tailing him, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said.
Rochat, a Waldwick native who has a real estate license but is unemployed, was being held on $3 million bail in the Bergen County Jail.
Rochat’s father, Gene, was a principal at Kurgan-Bergen Realtors Agency in Rutherford, where Barbara Vernieri worked for decades, the prosecutor said during a news conference yesterday after CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the news.
- YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Authorities have charged a Waldwick man with bludgeoning a 70-year-old fellow real estate agent in her East Rutherford home before torching her and her house, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned. Bail is $3 million. READ MORE….
Vernieri fought hard against her killer, who hit her several times before pouring an accelerant on the East Rutherford real estate agent and setting her on fire on Sept. 14.
The murder of Vernieri at her Sheppard Terrace home bore similarities to two other unsolved Bergen County murders, both in 2010, in which elderly victims were doused with an accelerant and set ablaze.
Dolores Alliotts, 69, was stabbed to death and her Palisades Park home set on fire in April 2010. Five months later, 74-year-old Joan Davis of Teaneck suffered the same fate.
In each of those cases, as with Vernieri’s murder, prosecutors said the fires were set in an attempt to cover up the crimes.
The advantage in the recent case was the quick response of East Rutherford police and firefighters, who quickly extinguished the blaze, Molinelli said last month.
It allowed a forensic examination of her body that authorities didn’t have in the two previous cases, he said.
That Vernieri’s house is on a cul-de-sac, along with the fact that no sign of forced entry was found leads investigators to suspect she either knew her killer or let the person in for some reason, the prosecutor said at the time.
Cul-de-sacs aren’t necessarily destinations of choice for random attackers.
Molinelli said a tenant upstairs at Vernieri’s home called in the fire but didn’t witness the killing. The unidentified person gave investigators a statement, the prosecutor said.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.