NEWARK, NJ — Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens II announced Jan. 25 that a 40-year-old Bronx handyman faces life in prison after being found guilty of murdering his former employer, Charles Jeffrey, 64, in the victim’s Newark home. Nestor Francisco Canela Lopez was convicted Jan. 25 after a month-long jury trial presided over by Superior Court Judge James W. Donohue.
On Nov. 19, 2015, the defendant traveled from the Bronx to the victim’s home, where he bludgeoned the victim to death with a hammer, screwdriver and wrench. When the first-floor tenant arrived home from work, the common area of the residence was covered in so much blood that she assumed the victim was repainting the house. She quickly realized it was blood and found the victim in the basement with the ball end of a hammer embedded in his head.
Just prior to the incident, the victim and his wife fired Canela because jewelry went missing from the house. Text messages sent by the defendant also showed that he was under severe financial pressure at the time. Assistant Prosecutor Alex Albu, who represented the state at trial, argued that these factors underpinned Canela’s motive to murder the victim.
Numerous expert witnesses in DNA and bloodstain pattern analysis were called to testify at the trial and recreate the scene for the jury. According to Albu, although the defendant claimed that he acted in self-defense, the physical evidence told the true story of the defendant’s brutal attack. Following the murder, Canela showered in the victim’s home, changed clothes and threw out physical evidence in an effort to conceal his actions.
“The jury’s verdict recognized the defendant’s gruesome and cold-blooded slaying of the victim, and finally brought the victim’s family closure,” Albu said.
Canela faces life in prison after being found guilty of murder, multiple weapons offenses and tampering with physical evidence. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Donohue on March 1.