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Cliffside Park man pleads guilty to killing World War II vet, 88, in burglary

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia

ANOTHER CVP SCOOP: A 21-year-old Cliffside Park man pleaded guilty today to beating an 88-year-old World War II veteran to death during a burglary.

Edwin Estrada said he he hit Vincent Leuzzi several times over the heard with a pot during a burglary of his Fairview home in July 2010. Estrada was 18 at the time.

Under the terms of his plea agreement with prosecutors, Estrada faces 27 years in prison for a conviction of first-degree aggravated manslaughter when he is sentenced on March 8. He  must serve 85 percent of his sentence — just about 23 years — nearly before he is eligible for parole.

Superior Court Judge Donald Venezia (STORY, PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia)

Superior Court Judge Donald Venezia told Estrada that if he violates parole he will be returned to prison for “even more time than the full sentence.”

Under questioning from his attorney, John Pieroni, Estrada admitted hitting Leuzzi with the pot, which he grabbed from the kitchen, and taking his wallet.

“How many times did you hit him?” Venezia asked.

“I don’t know,” Estrada replied. “Several.”

First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins noted that the state dropped 10 other counts against the defendant in exchange for his guilty plea.

Two co-defendants, Jeffrey Cabrera and Andrew Abella, were charged with petty crimes, reached plea agreements with prosecutors and are awaiting sentencing, Higgins said.  Cabrera was charged with trying to help Estrada elude police, and Abella — Leuzzi’s grandson — with conspiracy to commit burglary.

Edwin Estrada, with defense attorney John Pieroni, in Superior Court in Hackensack (STORY, PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia)

Estrada originally intended to plead not guilty by reason of  diminished capacity, Pieroni told CLIFFVIEW PILOT early last month. He said at the time that his client first attempted suicide when he was 8, came from an abusive family and suffers from bi-polar and anti-social disorders.

Higgins countered at the time that he was ready to go to trial in the spring after initially offering 30 years in prison without parole in exchange for a guilty plea. However, he acknowledged that his office “may revisit” the proposed deal after reviewing psychiatric reports.

Estrada was arrested in New York City and originally charged in Hackensack with attempted murder and armed robbery of the retired mason and bricklayer, who came to the U.S. from his native Italy 73 years ago.

He made things easy for investigators by using Leuzzi’s credit card to buy clothing in Washington Heights, in a transaction captured on surveillance video.

The charges were upgraded to murder after Leuzzi’s death nine days after the attack. Estrada has been held on $1 million bail in the Bergen County Jail since then.

STORY, PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia

LEFT: Asst Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins; RIGHT: Edwin Estrada, with defense attorney John Pieroni, in Superior Court in Hackensack (STORY, PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia)

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