YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Jurors in Hackensack today acquitted Cristian Murillo-Munoz of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in an attack with a broken beer bottle at a Fort Lee nightclub that left his best friend of 14 years with a life-threatening gash in his neck.
However, they convicted him of lesser charges of “causing significant bodily injury” and weapons possession, which could still send him to prison.
Murillo-Munoz, of Weehawken, clasped his hands against his face ( photo, above ), then heaved a sigh of relief when the not-guilty verdicts were read just after noon.
During the trial, he contended that he struck the 26-year old victim in self-defense at Studio 4 in Fort Lee a year ago this past January.
The key piece of evidence for jurors, who deliberated for four full days, was surveillance video from the club. Yesterday, they returned to the courtroom to view the video for what may have been the fourth time — this time gathered in the well in front of the judge’s bench.
Roma had the lights darkened and allowed the jurors to talk quietly among themselves. They then viewed a 2-minute segment several times.
All told, the jurors acquitted Murillo-Munoz, 25, of five charges, including the most serious — aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
He was convicted of three less-serious counts: causing significant injury and two counts of weapons possession. Superior Court Judge Patrick Roma set a May 3 sentencing date on those convictions.
Convictions for third-degree crimes can result in maximum state prison sentences of 3 – 5 years with lengthy probation.
The victim testified during the week-long trial that he and Murillo-Munoz stopped associating early in 2011. Although his current girlfriend previously dated the defendant for five to six years, they’d stopped when he started going out with her around March 2011.
He said he went to the Route 4 club on Jan. 21, 2012 to “meet my girlfriend, have a drink, and drive home with her.” As he walked in along a narrow corridor just before closing, he said, Murillo-Munoz was upon him.
He was struck in the head and the neck, he said, and his neck was pouring blood.
When he turned to see who’d done it, the victim testified, Murillo-Munoz “was being restrained by security.”
Murillo-Munoz, in turn, said the victim — a single father with a young daughter — came to Studio 4 intending to attack him, and that he acted in self-defense.
Four people who worked at the club identified Murillo-Munoz during testimony last week as having hit the victim, breaking a Corona bottle on top of his head, then cutting his neck under the ear. But none said they actually saw Murillo-Munoz do it ( SEE: Near-fatal beer bottle incident at Route 4 club: Attack or self-defense? ).
Nor is the entire incident itself on the security video obtained by investigators and shown to the jurors.
Studio 4, in a small warehouse building next to the Route 4 Doubletree Hotel, has changed hands several times over the years. It’s now closed.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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