ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: Despite his wish to serve time in the Bergen County Jail, an admitted Latin Kings gang member was sentenced to a year in state prison yesterday for nearly killing his former best friend with a broken beer bottle at a Fort Lee nightclub.
“This was reckless bodily injury of the most vicious nature I have seen in a long time,” Superior Court Judge Patrick A. Roma told Cristian Murillo-Munoz. “Can you image the chaos in society if everybody handled a situation the way you did?
“Do you get it?”
Murillo-Munoz, 25, of Weehawken, first smashed the unsuspecting 26-year-old victim with a beer bottle, then opened a 5-inch gash “very near the carotid artery” in his neck with the broken piece left in his hand, the judge noted.
“This could easily have been homicide,” he said.
Murillo-Munoz contended during his trial that he struck the victim at Studio 4 a year ago this past January because he believed his former friend of 14 years had come there to attack him.
Jurors, in turn, acquitted Murillo-Munoz of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon but convicted him of lesser charges of “causing significant bodily injury” and weapons possession.
The key piece of evidence for jurors, who deliberated for four full days, was surveillance video from the club. They returned to the courtroom to view the video several times — 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.
“Under no circumstance is what you did a justifiable response,” Roma told Murillo-Munoz in the same Hackensack courtroom yesterday. “You have to be punished…. so that there’s a deterrent.”
What’s more, the judge said, the revelation after the trial of Murillo-Munoz’s gang affiliation “can be used as aggravating factor during sentence even if it was not a factor in the crime.”
The only thing he had going for him, Roma said, was that it was his first criminal offense.
Murillo-Munoz’s mother and sister sobbed throughout the proceeding and in the hallway as he was counseled afterward by attorney Adam Tuttle.
Tuttle told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he was disappointed because “we were hoping for the Bergen County Jail.”
At the same time, he conceded that Murillo-Munoz was fortunate because “he could easily have faced five years” if jurors had convicted of all charges.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daryl Williams declined comment.
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 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 was the entire incident itself on the security video that was shown to the jurors.
Studio 4, in a small warehouse building next to the Route 4 Doubletree Hotel, changed hands several times over the years. It’s now closed.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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