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New Bergen Cold Case Unit: Deportee Charged In 1999 Englewood Rape, Murder

Hyo J. Lee, Jose Colon
Hyo J. Lee, Jose Colon Photo Credit: COURTESY: Bergen County Prosecutor

A Nicaraguan man who remained at large following the 1999 rape and murder of an Englewood nail salon worker became the first defendant targeted by Bergen County’s first-ever Cold Case Homicide Unit.

Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo and state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Thursday announced the creation of the unit – a collaboration between the prosecutor’s office and New Jersey State Police that’s dedicated solely to the review of cold-case homicides in the county.

Prosecutor's detectives have investigated cold cases for years, but the new collaboration with their state counterparts is unique. The Cold Case Homicide Unit consists of a detective sergeant from the prosecutor’s office, an on-loan detective from the New Jersey State Police Major Crimes Unit and a county Senior Assistant Prosecutor dedicated to its cases.

The unit is reviewing more than 90 cold cases dating back the 1950s, Calo said.

Thanks to new forensic technology, unit members who reopened the slaying of 34-year-old Hyo J. Lee just after midnight on July 4, 1999 targeted Jose Colon, the prosecutor said.

Lee had left her home at 37 North Dean Street in Englewood and gone for a walk when Colon – also known as Luis Chavez – sexually assaulted and killed her, he said.

Her body was found later that morning behind a nearby trash bin.

Members of the Cold Case Unit resubmitted evidence to the State Police Office of Forensic Sciences in Hamilton, where experts created a DNA profile.

A national DNA database produced a match in Colon, who’d been arrested in Cleveland later in 1999 but whose victim survived, Calo said.

Federal authorities deported Colon to his native Nicaragua in 2005, after he’s served time in Ohio State Prison for the 1999 Cleveland assault.

The Cold Case is now “working with federal authorities and the United States Department of Justice to locate Colon and extradite him to the United States to stand trial for the murder,” Calo said.

Colon is also charged with sexual assault.

“When a crime goes unsolved – especially a serious crime like murder or rape – justice is denied, victims and survivors lack closure, and a dangerous criminal may be left free to victimize others,” said Grewal, who as a federal and Bergen County prosecutor before becoming state attorney general.

“Beyond that, society is harmed, because our faith in justice and our sense of security under the rule of law are shaken,” he said. “This new cold case unit is an outstanding example of law enforcement diligently pursuing justice.”

Calo said the new squad “is testament that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office does not forget the victims of violent crimes no matter how much time passes, and that we will dedicate the energy and resources to bring justice to those victims whenever possible.”

Grewal said he hoped other counties would follow Bergen’s lead.

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