Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife Amal Garas, 37, and the couple's two daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were found by police in their Oakland Avenue home early on the morning of Jan. 14 in separate rooms, bound and gagged with their throats punctured. According to police, the family had been dead for over two days before they were discovered.
Since then, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, the Jersey City Police, and the FBI have been working together on the case, but came up with very few leads until the discovery last week that an ATM card belonging to the late Hossam Armanious was used to withdraw money from his bank account the week after the murder. Then, late last week, detectives impounded the car they said had been caught on a bank tape during one of the transactions.
DeFazio said that an unidentified man used an ATM card that belonged to Armanious at a number of banks in Jersey City Heights and Manhattan. This has allowed DeFazio to hold strong to the idea that robbery was a motive for the killings.
There had been rampant speculation that Muslim extremists were behind the murders, which had resulted in tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians. Hossam Armanious, a Coptic Christian from Egypt, apparently had posted about religion on internet message boards.
But on Friday, the ATM lead became the break in the case as Edward McDonald, 25, of Jersey City and Hamilton Sanchez, 30, of Newark, were arrested. Each was charged with four counts of felony murder.
DeFazio said that the charge of felony murder carries a life sentence with possible death penalty. Bail was set at $10 million for each suspect.Announcing the suspects
The two suspects in the case were arraigned in the chambers of State Superior Court Judge Kevin Callahan Friday. Both answered not guilty to the charges.
After the arraignment, DeFazio was joined by FBI Special Agent William Billey and Jersey City Police Chief Robert Troy, along with other law enforcement members involved in the case.
DeFazio said that detectives believe the murders were allegedly committed by McDonald, who was at the time was a tenant renting the upstairs floor in the Armanious home. DeFazio said he believed that Sanchez helped out.
DeFazio said that McDonald apparently owed someone a large amount of money.
"I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear," DeFazio said. "The motive for these murders was robbery. This was a crime based on greed, the desperate need of money." DeFazio also ruled out that the murders had to do with a tenant dispute.
DeFazio gave an outline of what took place the evening of Jan. 11 when the murders were committed. This is what detectives believe:
At approximately 7:30 p.m., McDonald and Sanchez, wearing ski masks, allegedly gained entry into the house by pushing their way in after the door was opened by the wife, Amal Garas. In the house were the Armanious' younger daughter Monica and older daughter Sylvia. All three were then bound and gagged.
Later in the evening, between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Hossam Armanious came home from work. Also, during this time, daughter Monica was able to free herself from being bound, took off her tape, and recognized McDonald.
That was when the murders occurred, DeFazio said, with Monica being killed first. DeFazio also said that he could not give a time when the suspects left the house after the murders.
During the press conference, DeFazio had to correct some of the reporters' references to the killings as throat-slashing by reiterating that they were stabbed in various parts of the body.
Asked about when the ATM withdrawals started, DeFazio said they started the next day, and that several withdrawals took place and a total of $3,000 was withdrawn.
DeFazio also said that the car captured by video camera was believed to belong to McDonald's mother. DeFazio also said that he had interviewed McDonald early in the investigation and that McDonald still lived in the house for several days until he was evicted by law enforcement authorities.
After the press conference, DeFazio said the investigation is ongoing, but he believes there was no one else involved in the murders.
"Everyone asks, how can this happen, how can this be?" DeFazio said. "You know what? For all of us here in this room to think like logical, law-abiding legitimate people, we can't fathom it...that's not the mindset we're dealing with here."
The news about the arrests was greeted with relief by Maged F. Riad, the official spokesperson and legal counsel to Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
"I'm pleased, because my biggest fear was that it would not be solved, and the chaos that exists between Muslims and Christians would continue," said Riad.