EXCLUSIVE: With his parents on one side of the courtroom and loved ones of the victim on the other, a former real estate agent today moved closer to being tried on charges of bludgeoning a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman before torching her and her house.
Barring a plea deal, a trial date in January was expected for Daniel T. Rochat, 38, in the grisly Sept. 14, 2012 killing of fellow real estate salesperson Barbara Vernieri, following today’s indictment arraignment.
Rochat, a Waldwick native who most recently lived in Wood-Ridge, continued to be held on $3 million bail. He is charged with murder, causing death during a burglary, and arson, among several offenses in the 14-count indictment handed up by the grand jury in Hackensack in July.
Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi gave both sides until Jan. 13 to try and work something out. If they don’t by then, she’ll set a trial date — probably for late January. Bergen County prosecutors have not been offering plea bargains in murder cases, but they’ve been willing to listen to offers from defense attorneys.
Rochat’s father, Gene, was a principal at Kurgan-Bergen Realtors Agency in Rutherford, where Barbara Vernieri worked for decades.
He and his wife were in court this morning, along with a victim’s advocate and Vernieri’s loved ones, for the younger Rochat’s arraignment.
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 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.
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 that she either knew her killer or let the person in for some reason, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time. Cul-de-sacs aren’t necessarily destinations of choice for random attackers.
Vernieri fought hard, but the killer hit her several times before pouring an accelerant on her and setting her on fire, Molinelli said.
In addition to murder, the indictment accuses Rochat of:
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 with while resisting arrest.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
BACKGROUND IN THE CASE:
Former real estate agent indicted in murder, burning of East Rutherford woman, 70
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: An out-of-work real estate agent who prosecutors say bludgeoned a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman before torching her and her house was indicted today by a Bergen County grand jury. READ MORE….
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Accused killer of East Rutherford woman brought to court
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. READ MORE….
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‘Touch DNA’ test leads to arrest in murder of East Rutherford woman
EXCLUSIVE: Highly sensitive state-of-the-art DNA testing by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office led investigators to the man arrested last night in the bludgeoning and burning of a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned. READ MORE….
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Fellow real estate agent charged in murder, burning of East Rutherford woman, 70
UPDATE: Authorities have charged a Wood-Ridge man with bludgeoning a 70-year-old East Rutherford woman who worked at his father’s real estate agency before torching her and her house, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli confirmed this morning. READ MORE….