‘Portal to Hell’ victim on trial verdict: ‘I believe that we got justice’
The nightmare is finally over for Carolyn Bunnell and Barbara Perrine - two Union women who were attacked outside their home by an ax-wielding man who claimed to be searching for a "portal to Hell" in their shed.
"I've waited five years for this," Bunnell told NJ 101.5 Thursday, just after 30-year-old Morgan Mesz was convicted by a Union County jury of attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons charges.
On Jan 7, 2011, just before 6 a.m., Bunnell and Perrine - ages 50 and 53 at the time of the incident - noticed the contents of the shed mysteriously strewn about their backyard. What happened next, changed their lives forever.
As the two Longview Road women went outside to investigate, a man later identified as Mesz, then 25, emerged from the shed and attacked them several times, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Albert Cernadas, Jr., who prosecuted the case.
A neighbor, then-33-year-old Hernan Agudelo, heard the commotion and raced outside to help, authorities said. Agudelo grabbed a small souvenir baseball bat from his vehicle and used it to keep Mesz from continuing to attack the two women. He subdued the retrieved a small souvenir baseball bat from his vehicle, and used it to subdue Mesz until police arrived. In the process, he suffered several non-life threatening stab wounds.
Bunnell says Agudelo is a hero. She says she and Perrine wouldn't be alive today had he not rushed to their aid.
"Barbara and I would not have made it if not for Hernan. Hernan saved out lives. Everyone that was in contact with us that day saved our lives," Bunnell said. "Hernan is a hero and I just hope that he is recognized. Every day that I see him, I go up and thank him for saving our lives."
Cernadas also credits Agudelo for his bravery.
“With what the defendant did to these two women, they should be dead,” Cernadas said during the trial. “But they lived next to a hero.”
What followed the attack involved months of recovery and rehabilitation. Both women spent about three weeks in University Hospital in Newark before being transferred to a rehabilitation center. Bunnell said for a period of time, she wasn't even sure if her partner was still alive.
"Barbara and I worked hard and we take care of each other. I didn't see her in the hospital for two weeks because we were both injured so badly we couldn't see each other. I kept asking for her and they told me she was OK, but for a while, I really thought she was dead," Bunnell said, adding that the two women have "good family and friends" that cared for them, drove them to appointments and helped them through the ordeal.
She said both women "have injuries that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We suffered strokes and brain injuries" and Bunnell has cardiac issues as well. The women spent the next two years going through rehab as outpatient, learning how to do the simple tasks they once took for granted.
Bunnell's speech and memory were badly affected and remembering things and verbalizing them became a challenge following the attack.
"I can't do the things that I would normally do. My processing time is a lot slower than it used to be. In the beginning, I couldn't even move my left arms from the stabbings. It took two years before I could lift my arm over my head and I still have trouble lifting it," Bunnell said.
But although a lot of their injuries have improved or healed, they still struggle each day with the memory of what happened and the scars it left on their lives.
"Just because the trial is over doesn't mean we're ever gonna forget this day. I think about it every day when I wake up," Bunnell said.
Still, the verdict handed down Thursday came as a great relief, Bunnell said.
"Mesz was convicted of two counts of first-degree attempted murder, third-degree aggravated assault, and two related weapons charges after several hours of jury deliberation spread over two days following a nearly month-long trial before state Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim," the Union County prosecutor said Thursday.
Bunnell said she's glad Mesz will be "off the streets" for a long time following the April sentencing.
"I'm just very overwhelmed with this sentence," she said. "I was hoping and praying we would get justice and I feel that we got justice. He (Mesz) doesn't need to be on the street. He's a menace."
Convictions on first-degree crimes commonly carry penalties of 10 to 20 years in state prison. Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for April 15, 2016 before Judge Peim.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.