Alleged accomplice avoids homicide conviction

November 30, 2000

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
11-30-2000
 

SHOOTER CONVICTED IN THREE MURDERS -- ACCOMPLICE GUILTY OF CONSPIRACY CHARGES

By PAULO LIMA, Staff Writer 
Date: 11-30-2000, Thursday
Section: NEWS 
Edition: All Editions -- Two Star B, Two Star P, One Star B

Jurors returned a split verdict Wednesday against two men charged 
in a 1998 triple murder in Bogota, convicting one on all 14 counts while 
finding his accomplice guilty of only two conspiracy charges. 

Miguel Suarez, 23, faces a possible life prison term after being 
convicted of three counts of murder and several conspiracy and weapons 
offenses. 

Co-defendant Richard Morales, also 23, was found guilty of 
conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Each 
of the conspiracy convictions carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in 
prison. 

Jurors reached the verdict around 2 p.m. Wednesday in Superior 
Court in Hackensack, where they spent four days deliberating the case. 

Suarez was convicted of murdering Rajesh Kalsaria, Ajit Hira, and 
Bhushan Raval inside Kalsaria's Chestnut Avenue home Oct. 23, 1997. 
Prosecutors had alleged that Suarez was the triggerman, but that Morales 
was with him when Suarez shot the three men execution-style. 

The two had gone to the house to rob and kill Kalsaria at the 
behest of another man, Dimpy Patel, prosecutors said. The other two 
victims were friends of Kalsaria and simply happened to be in the house 
at the wrong time, they said. Patel is scheduled for trial early next 
year. 

Another defendant, Darwin Godoy, has pleaded guilty to his role as 
a lookout while the murders were committed. Godoy testified for the 
prosecution and will be sentenced after Patel's trial. 

"I'm very happy with the verdict for Suarez," said Hira's brother, 
Bruce, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., but flew in weekly to attend much 
of the four-week trial. 

"As far as Morales is concerned, I do think he deserved more than 
he got," Hira said. "He should thank his stars. Society has given him a 
break and hopefully he will use it for something good in the future." 

The three victims each left a widow and two children. 

Ajit Hira's widow, Neeru, wept silently as the verdicts were read 
Wednesday. Sgt. Joseph Macellaro, one of the detectives who worked the 
case for the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, sat comforting her. 

Kalsaria's wife, Chetna, was at her job in Paramus when she learned 
that the jurors had reached a verdict. She rushed into court moments 
before the verdicts were read. 

"That [the split verdict] upset me a little bit," she said. "We 
thought they both would be behind bars forever." 

During the lengthy deliberations, jurors requested several pieces 
of evidence, which suggested that they were wrestling with Morales' role 
in the crimes. 

Earlier Wednesday, they listened to a taped testimony of Eddie 
Nieves, who said he was in the car when Morales, Suarez, and Godoy went 
to New York City to buy the guns used in the killing. 

"Nieves said that, in all conversations during the planning of the 
heist and the acquisition of the guns, that Morales was never present," 
said Morales' attorneyKevin G. Roe

Roe said he was not surprised by the verdict. In fact, he said he 
expected a full acquittal for his client and plans to appeal the 
conspiracy convictions. 

The state's case was bolstered by cellular telephone records 
linking Suarez's phone to the Kalsaria house the day of the killings. 
The case against Morales, however, relied heavily on the testimony of 
Godoy and George Rivera, a jailhouse informant who testified that Suarez 
gave him a detailed confession while they were in the Bergen County 
Jail. 

"I would say [jurors] most definitely discounted the incredible 
testimony offered by both Godoy and the jailhouse snitch, George Rivera, 
who clearly worked a deal to escape his just punishment," Roe said. 

Suarez faces 30 years to life in prison on each of the murder 
convictions. Both defendants were charged with three counts each of 
murder and felony murder. 

Suarez walked into the courtroom with what had become a 
characteristic smile and chatted with his attorney before the verdicts 
were read. Morales sat silently and stared droopy-eyed, his chin in his 
hands, much as he had done throughout the trial. 

When the jury delivered the verdicts against him, Suarez lowered 
his eyes slightly and shook his head. 

"He took it like a man," Suarez attorney Edward Jerejian said of 
his client. "He's obviously disappointed. His mother was in tears. He 
comes from a family of honest, hardworking people. 

"This is a tragedy for families on both sides. There are no winners 
or losers in these cases." 

Jerejian said he plans to appeal the conviction but will first 
concern himself with preparing arguments to get his client the lightest 
possible sentence. 

Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte set sentencing dates of Jan. 18 
and Jan. 19 for Suarez and Morales, respectively. 

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor James V. Santulli, who tried the 
case for the state, had mixed emotions on the verdict. 

"I'm very happy with the verdict as it relates to Miguel Suarez," 
he said. "Obviously, we were very concerned in convicting who we felt 
was the shooter. There's some disappointment in convicting Richard 
Morales of only two counts of conspiracy." 

The four-week trial was marked by intense security throughout. 

Suarez was transferred to the state prison system after authorities 
said they discovered he had been hatching an escape plot and was trying 
to order the murders of two witnesses. 

Bergen County sheriff's officers were joined by state Department of 
Corrections officers inside and outside the courtroom. Observers had to 
pass through a metal detector to get inside the court. 

Following the trial last Thursday, plainclothes DOC officers chased 
a reporter and photographer away from the area with shotguns while they 
loaded the shackled prisoners for transport. 

Staff Writer Paulo Lima's e-mail address is lima(at)NorthJersey.com 

Illustrations/Photos: 2 COLOR PHOTOS 1 - SUAREZ 2 - MORALES

Keywords: BOGOTA. MURDER. COURT

Copyright 2000 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.