Handcuffs (Shorebeat File Photo/ banspy/ Flickr)
Handcuffs (Shorebeat File Photo/ banspy/ Flickr)

Two Lakewood men – a 31-year-old uncle and his 19-year-old nephew, have been indicted in the fall 2019 killing of a third man whose body was found on the side of a road in Howell Township.

Omar Rivera-Rojas, also known as Juan Carlos Rivera-Rojas, 31, and his nephew Alberto Rojas-Hernandez, 19, both of Lakewood, were indicted by a Monmouth County grand jury Tuesday on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and tampering with evidence, announced Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.

The victim in the case, identified as Domingo Merino-Rafael, 33, also of Lakewood, was unresponsive and “obviously deceased” when he was found on the side of Hurley Pond Road in Howell at 3:46 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2019. Authorities initially believed Merino-Rafael had been struck by a vehicle, but ultimately determined he had been murdered. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.


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A joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Howell Township Police Department determined Rivera-Rojas, Rojas-Hernandez, and Merino-Rafael traveled from Lakewood to Middlesex County on the evening of Oct. 17, 2019. The men were returning to Lakewood in the early morning hours of the following day when the trio got into an argument that culminated with the uncle and nephew pair killing Merino-Rafael, prosecutors allege.

Rojas-Hernandez, of Joe Parker Avenue in Lakewood, is being held in the Youth Detention Center in North Brunswick where he has been in custody since his arrest in Oct. 2019. Rojas- Hernandez, who was just 7 months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the murder, was previously waived to adult court to face the charges alongside his uncle and alleged co-conspirator.

Rivera-Rojas has also been detained since his arrest.

If convicted of murder, Rivera-Rojas and Rojas-Hernandez each face a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the state’s No Early Release Act, requiring them to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole.

Photos of the suspects were not distributed.