Authorities in New Jersey say a landscaper and his employee kidnapped a 41-year-old mother of two and killed her by burying her alive.
Ramon Ortiz, 57, of Pennsauken, and Carlos Alicea-Antonetti, 36, of Camden, were arraigned on murder charges at the Camden County Hall of Justice on Thursday. The two men are charged in connection with the Monday slaying of East Camden resident Fatima Perez.
"No crime is more serious than murder, and this murder was particularly heinous and depraved," Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah said in court during Thursday's proceeding.
According to Shah, relatives reported Perez missing Monday afternoon when she failed to show up for work. Family members told police Perez was last seen earlier that day, when she left home to purchase a vehicle. She had $8,000 in cash on her, family members told police. They also said they thought Perez was with Alicea-Antonetti, the owner of a local landscaping company, who had previously done work for her.
On Wednesday, a tip led authorities to Alicea-Antonetti. He and Ortiz, an employee of the landscaping business, had been staying at a hotel in Cherry Hill Township. Inside their hotel room, police found a cell phone, from which the battery had been removed, and more than $7,000 in cash.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Alicea-Antonetti told police he picked up Perez on Monday morning to take her to buy a vehicle. During the ride, the two argued and Perez fell out of the vehicle, injuring herself, police said.
For reasons not yet clear, Perez somehow got back inside the vehicle, after which Alicea-Antonetti allegedly picked up Ortiz.
At some point, police said, Perez was tied up and duct tape was placed over her mouth and eyes before the two men took her to a rural area.
"Alicea-Antonetti pulled off the roadway," the probable cause affidavit states. "Ortiz took a shovel from the van and dug the grave, as his boss directed him."
Alicea-Antonetti said Perez, the mother of a 21-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son, was still breathing when her body was covered up, police said.
After questioning both men, police say Ortiz led them to a heavily forested area in Monroe, where investigators found Perez's body buried in a shallow grave.
An autopsy revealed Perez died of asphyxiation.
"For a woman of her character and stature to have died in this manner is horrible and very traumatic to her family," Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said in a statement.
During Thursday's arraignment, Superior Court Judge Edward J. McBride set bail at $5 million each for Alicea-Antonetti and Ortiz. Neither man entered a plea during the proceeding. If convicted, each man will face up to life in prison without parole.