HOWELL — An uncle and his nephew have admitted to killing a man with a machete and leaving the victim's body in the street.

Omar Rivera-Rojas, 32, also known as Juan Carlos Rivera Rojas, and Alberto Rojas-Hernandez, 20, both of Lakewood, on Friday pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated manslaughter charges for the slaying in Howell nearly three years ago.

Domingo Merino-Rafael, 33, also of Lakewood, was found face down on Hurley Pond Road east of Route 547 early on the morning of Oct. 18, 2019. He was "obviously deceased," Monmouth County prosecutors said in a statement.

While investigators at first treated his death as a hit-and-run, it quickly became clear that he had been attacked. Merino-Rafael's cause of death was "multiple chop wounds to the head," according to prosecutors.

Investigators found that the three men had traveled together to Middlesex County the night of Oct. 17. They were on their way back to Lakewood when an argument broke out that escalated to the killing.

Both the uncle and nephew admitted to using the machete to strike Merino-Rafael in the back of his head, according to prosecutors.

A sentencing hearing for the two men is currently scheduled for Mar. 3, 2023. Prosecutors say they will recommend 22 years in state prison for Rivera-Rojas and 20 years in prison for Rojas-Hernandez, with both being subject to the No Early Release Act which will require them to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for parole.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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