The horror of the moment set in when Alex Aguilar walked outside his trailer at a Burlington County horse farm and came face-to-face with a co-worker hacking his friend to death with a machete.
At that instant, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi, Carlos Reyes focused his brutal attack on Aguilar.
"He was greeted at the door with a machete to his face," Bernardi said at a news conference yesterday at which he announced the filing of murder charges against Reyes.
When Reyes' rage had subsided on the night of Feb. 26, said Bernardi, Aguilar, 29, and Marcial Morales-Maldonado, 43, had been hacked almost beyond recognition, their blood soaked into the ground of Sterling Chase Farm, a rural thoroughbred farm where the Honduran nationals worked for several years.
"One of the victims was so badly mutilated, he was literally unidentifiable from a facial perspective," Bernardi said. He said that the first killing resulted from an argument, but gave no details.
According to Bernardi, Carlos, 41, and his brother, Cesar, 38, "hung out" on the streets of nearby Hamilton Township, Mercer County, after the slayings, waiting for a van that would take them to Houston, Texas, in what Bernardi described as an "underground railroad" for "illegal immigrants" who could be found out if they took other means of transportation.
A female worker found the bodies Feb. 28. The Reyes brothers left behind key pieces of evidence, Bernardi said, and a cell phone provided investigators with "Reymondo," a Houston man who sent the van all the way to New Jersey to pick up the Reyes brothers.
"He had been contacted by Carlos, who told him he wanted to come down," Bernardi said. "He said things weren't going well in New Jersey."
After a Spanish-speaking New Jersey State Trooper made contact with "Reymondo," federal investigators were able to locate his address and apprehended the Reyes brothers March 3 in a Houston apartment.
Carlos Reyes has been charged with two counts of murder. Cesar was out buying alcohol when the argument between his brother and Morales-Maldonado began, Bernardi said, but witnessed the killings when he returned. He has been held as a material witness to murder.
Both men are being held in Texas by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and will be extradited to New Jersey to face justice, Bernardi said.
Authorities described all four men as "undocumented aliens." William J. Hayes, ICE's acting special agent in charge in New Jersey, said that an investigation into whether Sterling Chase knew of the men's immigration status was ongoing.
Sterling Chase's owner, Brendan Cassidy, could not be reached for comment. Authorities say that they also found a bloody machete and clothing on the farm after an extensive search.
In a statement, Aguilar's brother and Morales-Maldonado's nephew, both of whom live in South Jersey, asked that those responsible for the killings be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." *