SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ - An appeals court has granted a new trial for a South Brunswick man who was charged with killing his parents in 2008, according to recent court documents. Michael Maltese, now 32 and originally from Monmouth Junction, will receive a new trial due to ‘plain error’ by the presiding judge.
Maltese was convicted of killing his parents in their mobile home in Monmouth Junction in 2008 after a fight had ensued between him and his father. After the father threw something at him and said "I wish you were never born . . . you mean absolutely nothing to me," the defendant jumped on him and strangled him to death. According to court documents, the father had abused Michael both physically and sexually for many years.
He then strangled his mother to death after she had smacked him. Michael and his girlfriend had brought the bodies upstairs, put them in the bathtub, soaked them in bleach, wrapped them in garbage bags, put them in the trunk of a car and buried them in a nearby park. 11 days later, police had surveillance footage of Maltese taking money out of his parents' bank account and later found shovels in his car, according to court records.
Maltese was arrested and found guilty of second degree murder with a sentence of 64 years in prison in November 2010. His girlfriend was also found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed these charges in 2016 due to physical evidence that was seized by authorities that was not allowed into evidence at the time of the trial. He was found guilty in 2018 of two counts of murder and sentenced to six years.
The appeal court decided to grant Maltese a new trial due to Judge Rea’s instruction to the jury that the defendant had a ‘duty to retreat,’ meaning that the defendant had the opportunity to retreat from violence without using deadly force.
Both the prosecutor and the judge agreed that the duty to retreat needed to be removed from the juries instructions due to the evidence of the case. Regardless, Judge Rea still instructed the jury to decide whether Maltese had the duty to retreat, according to transcripts of the trial.
The appeal also states that the judge did not sufficiently inform Maltese about his right to counsel. Maltese had agreed to come before the court pro se, meaning he wished to represent himself. According to the appeal, this action was done because of the ‘repeated delays’ in his case. Judge Rea had concluded that Maltese was competent to make his own decision and allowed him to waive his right to counsel.
After Maltese complained about his lack of resources while incarcerated, Judge Rea responded "Well, that's the hand you're holding.” He also informed him that the court’s delays were due to the court and not his counsel. The appeals court found that Judge Rea did not inform Maltese of his right to standby counsel, which would have assisted him in accessing legal resources. The new trial has yet to be scheduled.