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Garfield couple headed to trial in connection with Cliffside Park’s man murder

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

EXCLUSIVE: A Garfield couple charged in connection with the murder of a Cliffside Park man last July are headed to trial now that prosecutors have refused to offer them plea bargains.

Due to the seriousness of the charges, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer said Michael Sampson won’t be offered an opportunity to reduce his potential sentence by pleading guilty to murdering Hector Tito Zabala Jr.

Nor will Jacquelin Pierro, who faces lesser charges of hindering Sampson’s apprehension, child endangerment and drug offenses, she said.

However, that doesn’t mean their defense attorneys can’t pitch their own plea proposals, said Grootenboer ( below, far left ).

Sampson, 39, is also charged with perjury, which Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi ruled will be tried separately. He remains held on $3.1 million bail.

Pierro has remained free on $25,000 bail since shortly after their July 11, 2012 arrests.

Pierro, Sampson (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

DeAvila-Silebi set a trial date of March 25, 2014 for both defendants.

A running factor for Sampson has been the inability of his defense lawyer to be in court.

Steven E. Braun, filling in for him, told DeAvila-Silebi that attorney Miles Feinstein is currently trying a murder case in Sussex County that began in July and isn’t expected to finish until the end of November, the earliest.

Besides first-degree murder, Sampson faces several weapons possession charges, drug possession and neglecting his and Pierro’s then-4-month old daughter.

Authorities charged Pierro with hindering Sampson’s arrest, as well as drug-related charges and child endangerment — for leaving the girl with Sampson when she knew a manhunt for him was under way, they said.

Sampson and Zabala were drinking at the same Anderson Avenue bar when they got into some kind of argument.

Sampson went to his car, got a gun, then shot Zabala dead as he walked home, authorities allege.

Pierro was in the car at the time and left with Sampson, they said.

The second case arose from what authorities said were false statements that Sampson gave in court on two separate occasions in 2006 and 2007.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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