🔴 Andreas Erazo has lost his NJ Supreme Court appeal in the killing of an 11-year-old girl

🔴 Erazo won an appeal last year, potentially setting up a new trial

🔴 Prosecutors championed the decision in such a 'uniquely heinous crime'

KEANSBURG — The New Jersey Supreme Court has overturned a ruling that would have given the man who confessed to the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl a chance to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison.

Andreas Erazo, 24, was sentenced to life in prison for the horrific killing of Abbiegail Smith at his Keansburg apartment. He will be eligible for parole on April 11, 2081, at the age of 82 years old, according to state records.

One day after she was reported missing, Smith's body was found on the roof of a shed below Erazo's apartment window on July 13, 2017. She had been wrapped in a futon cover and bound with computer cords.

Erazo pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault and murder in 2019 on the day before his trial was set to begin. But before he entered his guilty plea, Erazo attempted to withdraw his confession. The court denied the motion, which resulted in a years-long legal battle that almost resulted in a new trial and potentially a favorable verdict.

ASB 0601 Erazo Sentencing
Cecille Bennett Downy, right, consoles her sister Carol Bennett as she wipes tears away after addressing the court during the sentencing for Andreas Erazo, who pled guilty to murdering her daughter Abbiegail Smith. (Thomas P Costello/The Asbury Park Press via AP, Pool)

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, which has handled the case through those court battles, celebrated the outcome.

"We are collectively elated over the opinion issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court, as it unequivocally validates the stance the Prosecutor’s Office has held from the very onset of this case: that this investigation was conducted rigorously, dutifully, and in full accordance with established law," spokesperson Mark Spivey said in a statement.

"This was a uniquely heinous crime, and we are likewise collectively pleased that the family of Abbiegail 'Abbie' Smith can rest assured that the person responsible for cutting her life so brutally and tragically short will now continue serving his lengthy prison term."

Missing Girl Found Dead
Andreas Erazo leaves State Superior Court Judge David Bauman's courtroom Friday, May 31, 2019, in Freehold, N.J., after he was sentenced to a life prison term for the murder of 11-year-old Abbiegail Smith. (Thomas P Costello/The Asbury Park Press via AP, Pool)

🔴 Andreas Erazo wins appeal, then loses

The state Supreme Court's decision Wednesday is a complete reversal of an appeals court ruling in March 2022.

Ultimately, the decision came down to the question of whether prosecutors would have been able to use Erazo's taped confession if the case had gone to trial. The appellate panel determined last year that detectives had violated his Miranda rights to get the confession and therefore the video was inadmissible in court.

MORE: NJ man who confessed to rape, murder of 11-year-old girl wins appeal

Erazo voluntarily went to the Keansburg police station for an interview with detectives, according to court records. He was not in police custody. Investigators did not read him his Miranda rights and questioned him for nearly an hour and a half. He told detectives that he didn't know anything about the 11-year-old girl's disappearance.

Abbiegail Smith (GoFundMe)
Abbiegail Smith (GoFundMe)

After the interview ended, detectives spoke with a witness who said they saw Erazo enter the victim's apartment. Erazo stayed at the police station but was allowed to take cigarette breaks and use the bathroom.

Several hours after their first interview, detectives again questioned Erazo. For the second interview, the investigators read him his Miranda rights and he understood that he was being recorded on camera.

In issuing the March 2022 decision, the appeals court ruled that the second interview was tainted and actually a continuation of the first interview. The court determined that because detectives used information gathered in the first interview to press Erazo in the second interview, they could not be considered separate conversations.

Abbie Smith's home, the Hancock Arms Apartments in Keansburg. Her killer Andreas Erazo also lived in the complex 7/14/2017. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Abbie Smith's home, the Hancock Arms Apartments in Keansburg. Her killer Andreas Erazo also lived in the complex 7/14/2017. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

But Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling rejects this interpretation.

"Throughout the second interview, the detectives pressed defendant about inconsistencies with his first statement, but because there was no initial Miranda violation, the second interview was not 'tainted' by reference to the first. The Court rejects the argument that police minimized the significance of the Miranda warnings and the consequences of waiving them."

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