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Emotional words from prosecutor, family, life sentence in killing, dismemberment of Cliffside Park chef

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

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Saying the victim begged for his life, a judge in Hackensack today sentenced a Cliffside Park kitchen worker to life in prison for his role in the murder and dismemberment of a popular neighborhood cook, following emotional statements by the victim’s siblings.

Wilfredo Sanchez, 38, appeared ashamed as Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi sentenced him to two 10-year terms and five separate five-year terms for an aggregate sentence of 90 years for the murder and desecration of the body of Francisco Gonzalez Fuentes.

He also stood for the entire proceeding, shifting from one foot to another, occasionally glancing at family members in the gallery or mouthing words to them.

It was a stark difference from the stoic that Sanchez had throughout the two-week trial and subsequent verdict in December.

“What happened that night should not have happened,” defense attorney John Weichsel told Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi, seeking mercy for his client. “It evolved from a pretty miserable existence when you work hard all week and get stupidly, blindly drunk on the weekend.”

Weichsel said Sanchez “worked very hard for very menial wages, like many people who have come to this country and are not documented. He couldn’t be part of the system, couldn’t get a Social Security number, and couldn’t complain when he was cheated on his wages.

“He is so sorry and so remorseful for what he did that fateful day – he is full of shame, full of guilt,” the attorney said. “He knows if he ever gets out of jail, he’ll be deported to a native country he will not have seen in decades.

“He knows he’ll probably be in jail when his mother, who has stood behind him, passes away. He has two children in El Salvador who will not know him.”

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

Gonzalez’ siblings ( above ), who attended every day of both trials, had no sympathy for Sanchez or his co-defendant, Pedro Garcia.

In turn, they described how the two killed their brother “like an animal.”

“We want him to pay for this crime because we are not going to see our brother again,” Fabian Gonzales told the judge. “The killing they did on my brother was worse than a dog should suffer. They killed him as if they were killing a chicken.

“When the body was given back to us, we got half of it,” he said. “Only they know what happened to the other half.”

“We’re just asking for the full force of the law to fall down on them.”

Garcia, the key witness against Sanchez, told jurors in graphic detail during the trial how he stabbed Fuentes in the neck, killing him, and then cut up and disposed of the body in garbage bags around town with Sanchez following a party at the apartment that Garcia and the 46-year-old victim shared.

Garcia said that he’d known “Frisco” since 2009 and shared a tiny, two-room apartment with him where Sanchez threw a party on Jan. 8, 2011, a Saturday. He said he cooked for the nine or so guests with food Sanchez bought, and that people drank.

Eventually, Garcia said, only he, Sanchez and Fuentes were left.

After Sanchez fell asleep on the one bed in the combined living/bedroom, Fuentes started unzipping his pants, waking him, Garcia said.

An argument ensued.

Garcia said he was already angry at the openly gay “Frisco” Fuentes who worked as a cook and kitchen helper at Cliffside Park’s Club House Cafe on Palisade Avenue, for telling people that he was his boyfriend. The mother of his infant son began restricting visits as a result, he testified.

Sanchez pushed Fuentes hard to the floor, breaking a plate, Garcia said, then he grabbed Fuentes by the neck and began hitting him with his right hand, shouting: “I’m not Garcia.”

Sanchez family members (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

“I’m going to call the police,” said Fuentes, who then went to the door and opened it, Garcia told jurors.

At that point, Sanchez grabbed Fuentes and hit him again, putting a piece of the broken plate to his neck, he said.

Garcia said he then went into the kitchen and got a “a big knife with a black grip.”

When he returned, he said, the two men were in the bathroom.

Still furious over Fuentes’s claim that they were lovers, Garcia said he stabbed him in the left side of the neck.

“The blood shot out,” he said. “I gave the knife to [Sanchez] and went into the kitchen.”

Garcia said he knew the neck wound had killed Fuentes, which he said had to be done to keep him from going to police. He said he also put on music “because they were making so much noise.”

“I got another knife and came back, and I saw [Sanchez] had stabbed him in the stomach,” Garcia testified. “He was dead.”

Then things got grisly.

First, they cut off Fuentes’ head, Garcia testified. Then they removed an arm.

After dumping everything in a nearby parking lot, they decided “it was too big,” Garcia said. “You could see it from far away.”

So they took the body back inside and continued dismembering it, sticking the pieces into garbage bags.

They sprayed disinfectant during the four-hour operation, which Garcia said began at 1 a.m. They also changed gloves and mopped up with rags, clothes, papers and anything they could find, he said.

They then dropped the bags around Cliffside Park — “at the church, at construction, in a parking lot,” he said.

“First, we threw out the three bags to the church,” Garcia said. “I put the legs behind the construction.

“When I came back, [Sanchez] grabbed the knife and opened his stomach,” he continued. “He changed his gloves and started taking out the intestines with his hands.

“The smell was so strong I left out of there. I wanted to throw up,” Garcia said.

Sanchez, meanwhile, “grabbed a bottle of chemical and started spraying it on the stomach because the smell was very strong.”

One knife broke during the procedure, and another had to be sharpened to cut through both legs, Garcia testified.

After throwing the last two bags near a construction site, they returned to the apartment. It was just after 5 a.m.

They got a couple hours sleep, then began to clean up, Garcia said.

The bloody tools, rags, and other items were placed into bags and thrown out. Garcia said he then took their clothes to a nearby laundry while Sanchez cleaned the apartment with bleach.

When he returned, he said, Sanchez “took me to the bathroom and told me ‘Hey, look how I left it all clean. It appears that nothing ever happened’.”

Things changed when Fuentes’ sister, Dora Alicia Gonzales, came by around noon that day, looking for her brother.

There was no answer, she testified earlier in the trial, so she returned around 5 p.m. and got the landlord to open the door.

Garcia, Sanchez, and Sanchez’ brother were in the bathroom, she said.

“Why didn’t you open the bathroom door?” she said she asked them.

“We were sleeping,” she said they told her.

There was blood on the wall, she said, and “the whole place just reeked.”

So she went to police, who launched a search that night.

Her brother’s head was found behind St. Demetrius Melkite-Greek Church on Cliff Street, down the block from the apartment, the next morning — Monday, Jan. 10. A search turned up other parts the same day.

That Wednesday, detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Garcia and Sanchez, charging them with Fuentes’s murder and dismemberment.

“When I asked Wilfredo what’s up with my brother, he said he didn’t know anything about him,” Gonzales told the judge today. “He gave me the same kiss that Judas gave the Lord.”

Each family member thanked the judge, the prosecutors and the investigators.

“Everything came out as it should, without lies,” Dora Gonzales said, echoing the sentiments of her brothers.

The siblings’ devotion to seeing justice done in their brother’s name touched him, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Wayne Mello ( photo, top ) said.

“I have come to know these people — Dora best of all, because she has testified in two trials and suffered so much, but most of all because she is such a lovely human being,” he told the judge. “When she speaks, it’s almost as if Francisco would speak to me.

“The life of every human being that is taken is given to me in trust – to protect and preserve, forever after. It was Dora who gave me the strength to do that,” Mello said.

“The inequity of the suffering of people who come to this country – the good and decent — they suffer, and they suffer mightily. But they push on for their family name, for their tradition, for the daughters and sons, mothers and fathers – and in their suffering they become magnificent.”

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

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