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Defendant balks at plea deal in Wallington spurned lover assault case

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

ONLY ON CVP: A self-styled Santeria priest from East Rutherford whose prosecution on charges of breaking into his former lover’s Wallington home and beating the man’s father nearly to death ended in a mistrial would have to spend two years and eight months more behind bars before he could be eligible for parole, under a plea deal offered by prosecutors.

The lawyer for Julio Pina-Catena told a judge in Hackensack, however, that her client “wants his trial.”

Superior Court Judge James J. Guida set a tentative Nov. 16 trial date on Monday, but attorney Ilene McFarlane said her client, after waiting nearly two years since the mistrial, wants the new one to begin sooner — preferably in September.

Altogether, Pina-Catena, 43, has spent more than four years in the Bergen County Jail since being charged with the May 2011 attempted murder of Nelson Martin.

He has maintained his innocence throughout.

Guida said he has a homicide trial in October that is even older than Pina-Catena’s case but that that he’d make it a priority on his schedule and begin start Nov. 16, the week before judicial college.

Jurors in November 2013 returned not-guilty verdicts to lesser counts against Pina-Catena while finishing “hopelessly deadlocked” on charges of attempted murder, breaking and entering, possession of a weapon, several acts of vandalism, and concealing evidence to hinder his prosecution.

At the same, the jury cleared his roommate, Kenny Cabrera, of destroying evidence.

Pina-Catena’s bail remained at $750,000.

Authorities said revenge over a failed romance prompted the Cuban-born Pina-Catena to break into the home, trash the place and attack his former lover’s father on May 4, 2011.

The vicious assault left Nelson Martin, then 57, with a fractured skull and eye socket and no memory of the incident. After being hospitalized for 10 days, he had to spend several weeks in a rehabilitation facility.

Martin’s house was stained nearly everywhere with blood — including the living room, an entry hall and a soaked couch where he was found, authorities said.

In addition, his daughter was targeted for hateful messages, with photographs broken out of their frames and the eyes scratched out.

There were also personal items of a sexual nature exposed and symbols that the prosecutor called Santeria warnings left behind.

There were no items of direct evidence at the crime scene: no DNA, no fingerprints, and no eyewitnesses. Nor did anyone find the blunt object that the assailant used to beat the victim, who was unable to testify.

Detectives immediately homed in on Adrian Martin’s acquaintances — Pina-Catena, in particular, who was once a close friend and lived with the Martin family.

Pina-Catena’s lawyers have pointed to another boyfriend the victim’s son broke up with a little over three years ago who allegedly sent him threatening emails.

Although that man had an alibi — he was in New York City at work at the time of the attack — they said he had a “friend” who was a likely suspect.

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

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