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Wood-Ridge Man Convicted Of Bludgeoning, Burning Realtor, 70

Daniel Rochat Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer, attorney James Doyle, Rochat Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photos

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Jurors in Hackensack on Thursday convicted a Wood-Ridge man in the 2012 bludgeoning and burning of a 70-year-old East Rutherford realtor.

A judge scheduled sentencing for Daniel Rochat for July 28, in what has been one of the longest cases to come to trial in Bergen County history.

Rochat, who turns 42 next Monday, had been held on $3 million bail in the Bergen County Jail since his arrest on Oct. 4, 2012.

Rochat, a Waldwick native, was accused of breaking into Barbara Vernieri’s Sheppard Terrace home on Sept. 14, 2012, bludgeoning her and then setting fire to the body in what prosecutors said was an attempt to avoid detection.

In addition to murder, jurors convicted him of aggravated arson, burglary, desecration of human remains and hindering his own apprehension.

The final count involves accusations that Rochat removed Vernieri’s cell phone and blood, DNA and other forensic evidence from the crime scene; gave false information to Wood-Ridge police; lied to them under oath, and threatened Wood-Ridge Sgt. Brian Griefer and Detective James McMorrow of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office while resisting arrest.

Vernieri was a business associate of Rochat’s father, Gene, who was a principal at Kurgan-Bergen Realtors Agency. She had worked for the older Rochat for decades.

The murder bore similarities to two other unsolved Bergen County murders, both in 2010, in which elderly victims were doused with an accelerant and set ablaze.

Dolores Alliotts, 69, was stabbed to death and her Palisades Park home set on fire in April 2010. Five months later, 74-year-old Joan Davis of Teaneck suffered the same fate.

In each of those cases, as with Vernieri’s murder, prosecutors said the fires were set in an attempt to cover up the crimes.

The advantage in the Vernieri case was that East Rutherford police and firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, allowing a forensic examination of her body that authorities didn’t have in the two previous cases.

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