CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. -- “At least five shots at close range is more than a murder -- it’s an execution,” said a Bergen County prosecutor who has refused to offer a formal plea deal to a Garfield couple charged in the shooting death of a Cliffside Park man.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer told a judge in Hackensack on Monday that family members of the victim, Hector Tito Zabala Jr., agree that Michael Sampson and Jacqueline Pierro should go to trial.
Saying that no defendant has a constitutional right to a plea deal, Grootenboer said she's floated an "informal" offer of at least 40 years in state prison to Sampson.
Also known as Michael Perez, Sampson is charged with shooting Zabala dead as he walked home from an Anderson Avenue bar after an argument between the two the night of July 8, 2012.
Sampson fired at least five times, Grootenboer said for the first time on Monday.
Pierro is charged with hindering his arrest, as well as leaving their then-4-month-old daughter with him when she knew that police had pegged him as the shooter.
Sampson has remained behind bars since both were arrested on July 11, 2012. His bail is $3.5 million.
Pierro, meanwhile, has remained free on $25,000 bail.
Prosecutors said Sampson went to his car and got the gun after arguing at the bar with Zabala, then shot him on the street.
Pierro was in the car at the time, left with Sampson afterward, and then left her daughter alone with him despite knowing that police were looking for him, they said.
“This is the first case in my experience I haven't had an offer,” Sampson’s attorney, Miles Feinstein, said Monday. “I’ve spoken with the prosecutor and I’m not presumptuous. I understand her position, which is in fact no plea offer, so we have to move it to trial.”
A trial has been postponed several times.
The most recent trial date set by Superior Court Judge Margaret M. Foti is for March 26, 2016.
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