YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Cliffside Park man awaiting trial for killing an 88-year old World War II veteran during a burglary was charged today with plotting from his Bergen County Jail cell to kill a co-defendant who was expected to testify against him.
A jailhouse snitch alerted authorities to the alleged plot to kill Andrew Abella, the victim’s grandson, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said.
Estrada “was attempting to contact individuals outside the jail in an effort to enlist their assistance to murder Abella,” Molinelli said, adding that items were seized from his cell.
As a result, Estrada is also charged with attempted murder. His bail was doubled to $2 million.
Five months ago, a judge who said the victim’s family deserves a harsher sentence nullified a deal Estrada made with prosecutors to to serve 27 years in prison for killing Vincent Leuzzi during a burglary at his Fairview home.
Defense attorney John Pieroni said he’d still hoped to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors.
However, First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins told CLIFFVIEW PILOT there would be “no deal” and that he’s ready to try the case.
Pieroni originally filed a “diminished capacity” petition for his client, who hit Leuzzi several times over the head with a pot during a July 2010 burglary.
Leuzzi, a retired mason and bricklayer, who came to the U.S. from his native Italy in 1939, initially survived the attack. He never fully recovered, however, and died nine days later in Englewood Medical Center.
Pieroni said Estrada, who was 18 at the time, comes from an abusive family, suffers from bi-polar and anti-social disorders, and first attempted suicide when he was eight.
Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi voided the deal that Pieroni and prosecutors came up with after members of Leuzzi’s family called for the death penalty.
Under the deal, prosecutors agreed to drop 10 other counts against Estrada in exchange for his pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter.
However, the judge said Estrada should “at the least be convicted of felony murder.”
Pieroni, in turn, asked DeAvila-Silebi to re0cuse herself. She denied the motion without a hearing.
The death penalty in New Jersey was abolished by then-Gov. Jon Corzine in 2007. The last person executed in the state was Ralph Hudson — 50 years ago.
If Estrada is convicted and is sentenced to less than life in prison, he would have to serve 85% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Under the plea agreement that was nullifed, that would have been 23 years.
Estrada was arrested in New York City and originally charged in Hackensack with attempted murder and armed robbery.
He made things easy for investigators by using Leuzzi’s credit card to buy clothing in Washington Heights, in a transaction captured on surveillance video.
The charges were upgraded to murder after Leuzzi’s death.
A first appearance on the new charge in the alleged murder plot is scheduled for Monday.
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RELATED: A trial grows more likely for a Cliffside Park man whose agreement to serve 27 years in prison for killing an 88-year old World War II veteran during a burglary was nullified by a judge who said the victim’s family deserves a harsher sentence. READ MORE ….