A Lakewood man has been charged with murder in the death of a man found lying in the roadway in Howell last Friday, Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni.

Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas, 29, who also goes by Omar Rivera Rojas, and Domingo Merino Rafael, 33, traveled from Lakewood to Middlesex County and were on their way back to Lakewood around 3:00 am on Friday morning when they got into an argument which led to a stabbing.

Howell Police responded to a 911 call around 3:46 a.m. reporting an unconscious male laying in Hurley Pond Road just east of Route 547.

Officers then saw a Hispanic male lying face down in the roadway.

The incident was initially investigated as a fatal hit and run motor vehicle incident.

However, upon the arrival of SCART investigators on Route 547, investigators was determined the incident was not a hit and run event, but a fatal stabbing.

The man, identified as Domingo Merino Rafael of Lakewood, was unresponsive and dead at the scene.

MONOC personnel responded and the victim was officially pronounced deceased at 4:12 a.m. by doctors at Newark Beth Israel Hospital.

Rafael was taken to the Middlesex County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office where a post-mortem examination performed by Medical Examiner Allison Mautone M.D. and the staff of the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death was a Homicide.

As investigators have put together the clues, Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas, (also known as Omar Rivera Rojas), was charged with first degree Murder for the death of Domingo Merino Rafael.

Rivera Rojas is being held in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in Freehold Township pending his first appearance before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon on November 1, 2019, and a Detention Hearing is also scheduled to follow that proceeding.

“This arrest was the result of outstanding work done by all the investigators from our Major Crimes Bureau and Forensics Unit, as well as the Howell Township Police Department, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Lakewood Police Department. The inter-agency cooperation could not have been better,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni said.

“My initial impression was this was going to be a challenging investigation. However, as it commenced it was obvious the tenacity of the officers involved from both my agency and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office proved otherwise," Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick said. "Together, they worked as a unified team, around the clock until this was quickly resolved. This is the perfect example of law enforcement working together for a dedicated purpose. I sincerely thank all the officers involved. We are ‘committed to community."

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Howell Township Police Department also credited the Lakewood Police Department and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office for their assistance during the investigation.

If convicted of Murder, Rivera Rojas faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole.

He would also be under parole supervision for five years following his release from state prison.

Anyone with information important to this investigation is urged to contact Detective Kevin Condon of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 800-533-7443 or Det. Sgt. Peter Kuppler of the Howell Township Police Department at 732-938-4575 extension 2245.

Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about a crime can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; they can text “MONMOUTH” plus their tip to 274637; or, they can email a tip via the website at www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.

Monmouth County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of criminals and fugitives.

The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Dugan.

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