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Lawyer seeks having DNA evidence tossed against Waldwick man in murder, burning of East Rutherford woman

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack today set a May 12 hearing for a challenge by the lawyer for a Wood-Ridge man charged in the bludgeoning and burning of a 70-year-old East Rutherford realtor against the DNA used to arrest him.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi granted the request by Richard Potter on behalf of his client, 39-year-old Daniel Rochat.

Potter is challenging the results of a “touch DNA” test, which uses less material than usual from a biological sample.

“Tthe DNA labs modify the accepted tests to deal with a sample in the billionths of a gram, as opposed to the normally accepted one – two nanograms of material,” Potter later told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Daniel Rochat (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

Such tests based on that amount aren’t widely accepted in the scientific community, and there is no case law allowing it, he said.

As a result, a trial remained months off.

Rochat, a Waldwick native, is accused of breaking into 70-year old Barbara Vernieri’s Sheppard Terrace home on Sept. 14, 2012, bludgeoning her and then setting fire to the body in what prosecutors said was an attempt to avoid detection. He remained held on $3 million bail in the Bergen County Jail.

In addition to murder, a host of charges include endangering the upstairs tenant who called in the fire, as well as desecration of human remains, burglary and hindering prosecution.

The final count involves accusations that Rochat removed Vernieri’s cell phone and blood, DNA and other forensic evidence from the crime scene; gave false information to Wood-Ridge police; lied to them under oath, and threatened Wood-Ridge Sgt. Brian Griefer and Detective James McMorrow of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office while resisting arrest.

Vernieri was a business associate of Rochat’s father, Gene, who was a principal at Kurgan-Bergen Realtors Agency. She had worked for the older Rochat for decades.

The murder 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 Vernieri case was that East Rutherford police and firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, allowing a forensic examination of her body that authorities didn’t have in the two previous cases.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer, defense attorney Richard Potter, Daniel Rochat in court today (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

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