Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Guilty Plea in Killing Is Rejected by Judge

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Guilty Plea in Killing Is Rejected by Judge

Article excerpt

A judge on Friday rejected the guilty plea of a Cliffside Park man accused of killing an elderly Fairview man during a burglary, citing the brutality of the killing and the fact that some of the victim's relatives want more prison time than the 27 years he would have received.

Edwin Estrada was charged with murder in the death of Vincent Leuzzi in July 2010 and faced up to life in prison if convicted. But he had worked out a deal with Bergen County prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and would receive a lesser sentence.

That plea agreement was approved in January by state Superior Court Judge Donald Venezia in Hackensack.

Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi, the top judge in the criminal division, however, said at a hearing Friday that the killing was committed with unusual brutality and that the 27-year term in the plea deal would not satisfy Leuzzi's relatives.

Silebi said she received letters from several Leuzzi relatives who implored her to sentence him to more than 27 years. Some of them even asked for the death penalty, she said.

Silebi also outlined the details of the killing, stressing that the 88-year-old Leuzzi, a World War II veteran, was hit on the head while he was watching TV in his home. Estrada then hit Leuzzi with a cooking pot over and over again before searching Leuzzi's pockets and taking off with his wallet, the judge said. Leuzzi suffered head injuries and was hospitalized in serious condition before he died a few days later.

Estrada was caught on surveillance cameras trying to use Leuzzi's credit card to purchase shoes, pizza and other items from several stores in New York City, but the card was declined.

"Murder in all of its forms is heinous," Silebi said. "But this has a heightened level of brutality."

If the 21-year-old Estrada were to be sentenced to 27 years in prison, he could make parole in about 20 years and be released when he is about 41, Silebi said.

John Higgins, Bergen County's first assistant prosecutor, said Leuzzi's relatives had been split on how they felt as the plea deal was being worked out. …

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