FREEHOLD, NJ — Paul Caneiro pleaded not guilty today to charges of murder in the deaths of his brother, Keith, and his entire family, and then setting fire to both his brother's home and his own to cover up the crimes.
Caneiro's attorney, Robert Honecker Jr., entered the pleas for Caneiro, 51, before Superior Court Judge James J. McGann in Freehold on November 30. He will remain held at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold, until his trial.
During the early morning of November 20, Caneiro is alleged to have repeatedly shot and kill brother Keith, 50, outside Keith's Colts Neck estate at 15 Willow Brook Road, and then he moved inside the home to murder the rest of his family, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, who detailed the charges at a November 29 press conference.
Keith’s wife, Jennifer, 45, was shot and stabbed, and their children, Jesse, 11, and Sophia, 8, were stabbed multiple times, he said.
Paul Caneiro then set the mansion ablaze “in an effort to conceal and disguise” his crimes, before returning to his own home at 27 Tilton Road in Ocean Township's Wayside section with items from the crime scene, where he started two fires outside the structure at about 5 a.m., Gramiccioni said, declining to elaborate on those items of evidence.
That fire was a ruse to create “an illusion” that both families were targeted and to destroy evidence from the Colts Neck slayings, Gramiccioni said.
In explaining the timeline as to why the Colts Neck fire, which was started in the basement of the sprawling home, was not reported until 12:45 p.m. — nearly seven hours after the Ocean fire —Gramiccioni said that it smoldered for a while before it was exposed to oxygen and then began to grow and spread to become visible from outside.
While Paul Caneiro’s wife, Susan, was home at the time of the Ocean Township fires, she was uninjured, officials said.
As for a motive for the murders, Gramiccioni said it appears to be related to financial issues stemming from the brothers’ joint business ventures. They both owned Square One, a technology company, and EcoStar Pest Management, both in Asbury Park.
An investigation into those businesses — and the financial dealings of the Caneiros — has been launched, the prosecutor said.
Caneiro has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder, and one count each of second-degree aggravated arson, second-degree possession of a firearm for unlawful purposes and third-degree possession of a knife for unlawful purposes. He also is charged with second-degree aggravated arson in connection with the two fires at his home.
Each murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
While it took more than a day after the murders for the burned-out $1.5 million Colts Neck mansion to be deemed safe to enter by county engineers, Gramiccioni said investigators have recovered a great deal of evidence since then from the crime scene, which ultimately resulted in the charges against Caneiro.
The joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Colts Neck and Ocean Township police departments has expanded to include the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office.
Since this is an ongoing investigation, Gramiccioni urged anyone with information about the Colts Neck fire to call Detective Patrick Petruzziello at 1-800-533-7443 or Detective Richard Zarrillo of the Colts Neck Police Department at 732-780-7323.
Anyone with information about the Ocean Township fire is urged to call Detective Brian Weisbrot of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 1-800-533-7443 or Detective Christopher Brady of the Ocean Township Police Department at 732-531-1428.
Anyone who feels the need to remain anonymous but has information about these incidents can contact Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line by calling 1-800-671-4400; 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.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and state law.
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