NJ killer who scattered chopped-up body all over town loses gay-panic appeal
CLIFFSIDE PARK — One of the two men convicted in a horrifying homophobic slaying in this Bergen County borough five years ago lost an appeal of his conviction, which sentenced him to die in prison.
Wilfredo Sanchez, 40, was convicted in 2014 of the Jan. 9, 2011, killing of Francisco Gonzalez Fuentes, 46.
Earlier this year, Sanchez’s co-defendant, Pedro Garcia, was sentenced to 60 years after confessing to his role and testifying against Sanchez. Garcia's attorney also has vowed to appeal.
Fuentes spent the moments before his death laying in his bathtub, bleeding and begging for his life. The two then killed Fuentes in cold blood and spent the following four hours methodically dismembering his corpse, placing the pieces into several garbage bags that they then left for a police dog to find the next day all across the borough.
Prosecutors described co-defendant Garcia as the victim’s live-in boyfriend. Garcia, however, denied the relationship or that he was gay.
Garcia, however, did admit that his fear of being identified as gay is what triggered his violent rage, causing him to fatally stab his longtime friend and roommate twice in the neck.
Garcia then cut off Fuentes’ head before he and Sanchez stuffed pieces of the corpse into garbage bags, which they left at a church, a construction site and a hardware store.
Sanchez argued in his appeal, which was denied this week, that the trial judge should have instructed the jury to consider convicting him on lesser charges, such as passion-provocation manslaughter and reckless manslaughter, considering that he did not deliver the fatal blow.
Sanchez said he was “provoked” by the victim’s attempt to “sexually assault” him.
His co-defendant Garcia had testified that the incident began following a party at their apartment. While Sanchez, a guest, was asleep, Garcia said the victim tried to unbuckle Sanchez’s pants. Sanchez woke up because the two roommates began arguing loudly.
When the victim ordered his roommate and Sanchez to leave, Sanchez began attacking him.
The victim fell on the floor, shattering a plate with his back. Sanchez held the victim's neck with one hand as he pummeled him with the other.
When Sanchez finished with the beating, the victim tried to leave the apartment to call police. Sanchez then grabbed the victim and threw him to the floor. He grabbed a shard of the plate and held it to his neck, menacingly telling him that he was "not Garcia."
Garcia testified that he took that to mean that Sanchez was implying that he, unlike Garcia, had the courage to hurt or kill Fuentes.
Garcia said that triggered his anger because he started to remember the times that his roommate had told others that they were dating. So he grabbed a knife and stabbed Fuentes' neck.
Sanchez took the victim to the bathroom and placed him in the tub, Garcia testified. Sanchez stabbed Fuentes in the stomach.
Sanchez then said “we have to finish him off” because they’d be in trouble if the police came.
“I’ll do it,” Garcia volunteered, and as Fuentes begged for his life, Garcia stabbed his lover again in the neck.
Sanchez then said they'd have to “cut him up" to get rid of the corpse.
In his appeal, Sanchez argued that the jury should have been instructed to consider convicting him of a crime of passion, which would have resulted in a lesser prison sentence.
But the appellate panel said Friday that there was "no heat of passion" in the slaying because the victim never unbuckled Sanchez's pants and Sanchez didn't know, even after he woke up, that Fuentes had tried to do that.
The panel also said that Sanchez could not have been convicted of reckless manslaughter, which also could have resulted in a lesser sentence, because there was no evidence of recklessness. His actions were deliberate and purposeful.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.