Authorities on Wednesday accused a farm worker from Honduras of hacking to death two co-workers with a machete during an argument, and charged his brother as a material witness.
Police described the killings of 29-year-old Alex Aguilar and 48-year-old Marcial Morales-Maldonado as among the grisliest they had ever seen. The victims, also from Honduras, were found bludgeoned to death on Feb. 28 at the Sterling Chase Horse Farm in Springfield, a 118-acre thoroughbred horse breeding farm south of Trenton.
Carlos Reyes is charged with two counts of murder and Cesar Reyes accused of being a material witness. They were being held by immigration officials in Texas until a transfer to New Jersey authorities could be arranged. Harold Ort, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it wasn't clear if the men had retained lawyers.
The victims' badly mutilated bodies were discovered Feb. 28, face-down in front of the living quarters the four men shared, police said.
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Carlos Reyes, 41, and his 30-year-old brother vanished after the killings, and police said they began looking for them immediately. Authorities said a search of the farm turned up a discarded cell phone. A Spanish-speaking trooper contacted recently dialed phone numbers and, posing as someone trying to help arrange transport for the brothers, learned that they had boarded a Houston-bound bus in New Jersey on March 1.
Using cell phone traces to identify the Texas contact, New Jersey police then sought help from U.S. Marshals and immigration officials in Texas, who helped arrest the brothers at a Houston apartment.
A subsequent search of the New Jersey farm turned up a machete hidden in a septic tank that police believe is the murder weapon. They said machetes are routinely used on the farm for a variety of tasks.
All four men are undocumented immigrants, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Maj. Thomas Flarity, who runs the investigations unit of the New Jersey State Police, said remarkable interagency coordination was the key to solving the case quickly.
"It was about a week's time where people who were largely unidentifiable at the time the crime scene was established were brought to justice in this manner," he said. "I can't compare it to anything else I've seen in my career."
Police said they had scant details about the lives of the two victims.
Aguilar's brother Jose Wilmer Aguilar and Edis Morales, Maldonado's nephew, issued a joint statement through the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, that read: "We ask that those responsible for the crime pay for the crime, and that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."