By JOHN T. WARD
A Red Bank man is expected to be sentenced to two life terms in prison without eligibility for parole after a Monmouth County jury found he was the trigger man in a vicious double homicide in the borough three years ago.
After a two-month trial, Antonio ‘Mingo’ Suarez-Perez was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the early-morning killings on Locust Avenue in February, 2009, said Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Marc LeMieux.
The jury verdict came after just a few hours deliberation on May 24, LeMieux said. Suarez-Perez is scheduled to be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Ronald Reisner on July 17.
Because the jury found aggravating factors were involved, the life sentences without a chance of parole are mandatory under state statute, LeMieux said.
Prosecutors alleged that, as part of an attempt to steal drugs from the victims, Suarez-Perez, then 21 years old, shot Joseph Fann, 23, of Red Bank, once in the face as the Fann sat in the passenger side of a white 1998 Lexus driven by Fann’s long friend, Sidney Wakefield, 26, of Long Branch, at around 1:30 a.m.
The gunman then shot Wakefield as he attempted to flee the car, and went around the vehicle to pump six more bullets into Wakefield as he lay on the asphalt, prosecutors alleged. Suarez-Perez then returned to Fann, who was still alive, and killed him with a shot to the head, the state alleged, based on evidence and testimony of a medical examiner, LeMieux said.
The sequence of events was used to establish that, in shooting each victim, Suarez-Perez knowingly and willfully created a “grave risk” to another person, meeting the law’s criteria for aggravating factors that trigger the life sentences, LeMieux said. Otherwise, he would have faced a sentence of 30 years to life, LeMieux said.
Suarez-Perez was also convicted of weapons charges, but acquitted on a charge of armed robbery.
After the killings, Suarez-Perez and his two companions, Eric Joel ‘Pun’ Figueras, 25 at the time and also of Red Bank, and Samson Theodore ‘Freedom’ Hearn, then 26, of Fair Haven, fled the scene in their vehicle, an Audi sedan. A Red Bank patrolman, James DePonte, saw the defendants leaving the scene and pursued them up Route 35 into Middletown, where, assisted by township police, he stopped and arrested the trio. The gun was recovered later in the day after it was spotted by a passing motorist on the side of Route 35.
Hearn and Figueras pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension in early 2010 and agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Suarez-Perez. They testified at his trial, LeMieux said. The state is recommending five-year terms for each, he said.
LeMieux praised the police work in the case, especially that of DePonte, who was among five current and former members of the department to testify in Freehold.
“But for his instincts and actions, we don’t catch these guys the night of the murders,” said LeMieux, who heads the major crimes unit of the prosecutor’s office.