COLTS NECK — A man accused of slaying his brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew days before Thanksgiving is maintaining his innocence.

Paul Caneiro was charged Thursday with first-degree murder of his four relatives whose bodies were found with bullet and stab wounds at their burning mansion Nov. 20. Caneiro was arrested last week on charges that he set fire to his own home in Ocean Township.

Prosecutors say the homicides were motivated by a financial dispute between the business-partner brothers.

Caneiro's attorneys on Thursday said their client is not the killer and that "there is absolutely no reason in the world for Paul Caneiro to have committed the crimes he is alleged to have committed."

"Paul's family means more to him than anything else in this world," Robert Honecker Jr. and Mitchell Ansell, of the firm Ansell Grimm & Aaron, said in a statement.

Jesse, Jennifer, Keith, Sophia Canerio. (Keith Caneiro via Facebook)

"Paul's brother Keith and his family similarly were everything to Paul. He worked with this brother Keith for 31 years and he loved his sister-in-law as if she was his sister. Paul Caneiro always participated in the lives of Jesse and Sophia from watching them at their various events at school and spending time with them frequently," the statement said, referring to the 8-year-old nephew and 11-year-old niece.

"He would never hurt any member of his family. The process today can begin for a search for the truth and who committed these horrendous acts," the statement adds. "Paul Caneiro is an innocent man who stands wrongfully accused by the state of New Jersey. Paul's expectations are when this case is over he will be completely vindicated and the truth will come out."

Earlier in the day, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said he was confident with the evidence to bring charges against Caneiro. Investigators do not believe there are any ties to organized crime.

AP

Gramiccioni said Caneiro went to his brother's home in the early morning hours of Nov. 20 and shot Keith Caneiro several times, including in the head. Investigators say he went inside and shot and stabbed Jennifer and stabbed the two children.

ATF investigators say the fire was started in the basement but smoldered for hours until someone later went into the house and inadvertently fueled the fire with oxygen by opening a door.

Paul Caneiro's Ocean Township home (Bud McCormick)

After setting the fire in Colts Neck, Gramiccioni said Caneiro then went back to his home and used gasoline to set his house ablaze while his wife and two adult daughters were inside. Prosecutors say this was a "ruse" to throw suspicion off him and an attempt to destroy evidence from Colts Neck.

The Ocean Township fire was reported first around 5 a.m. The Colts Neck fire was not reported until 12:38 p.m. after a landscaper found Keith Caneiro outside.

The bodies of Jennifer and her children were burned beyond recognition, investigators said.

Prosecutors also said they have knife and gun that they believe were used to kill the family.

Caneiro has a hearing Friday morning in Superior Court in Freehold Borough to determine whether he will be released from jail. Prosecutors will ask that he be kept locked up pending trial.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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