ONLY ON CVP: Even with the expected addition of new judges in Bergen County this fall, a trial is still months off for a Wood-Ridge man charged in the bludgeoning and burning of a 70-year-old East Rutherford realtor two years ago yesterday, the presiding judge said today.
“We’re hoping new judges are made in October or November, and that will change things,” Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi told the defense attorney for Daniel Rochat.
“But I can’t give you a trial date,” she told Richard Potter, nothing that the criminal court in Hackensack is operating at half its assigned number of judges. “We are booked through this year.”
Potter is also still waiting for discovery evidence from prosecutors in the murder of Barbara Venieri at her home on Sept. 14, 2012, DeAvila-Silebi noted.
The lawyer said he’s seeking FBI footprint analysis, cellphone records and the names and backgrounds of experts who prosecutors intend to have testify.
“I definitely need the cellphone expert summary, and the background of the expert who is going to testify,” he said.
The judge directed prosecutors to schedule at least two meetings with Potter before Rochat’s next court date, Dec. 9.
DeAvila-Silebi originally hoped the trial could begin in August.
Rochat, a Waldwick native, is accused of breaking into Vernieri’s Sheppard Terrace home, 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.
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