The New Jersey man accused in the mansion-fire slayings of his brother, sister-in-law and niece and nephew limped into a courtroom Friday to plead not guilty to murder charges.
Paul Caneiro wore a green jail outfit and handcuffs in Monmouth County Superior Court for his first court appearance since being charged in the deaths of his brother, Keith Caneiro, Keith’s 45-year-old wife, Jennifer, and their children, Sophia, 8, and Jesse, 11.
His lawyer Robert Honecker Jr. entered not guilty pleas on his behalf after the prosecutor read aloud the charges set forth in two criminal complaints.
The 51-year-old, who is also charged with arson, didn’t put up a fight for bail.
“Your honor, my client has indicated that he wishes to consent and waive his right to have a detention hearing,” Honecker told Judge James McGann as Caneiro sat in the jury box, looking dazed and downcast with scruffy salt-and-pepper facial hair.
Caneiro was silent at the hearing, except for answering “I do” to several questions the judge asked after reading him his rights.
Asked whether he had taken any drugs or alcohol on Friday, Caneiro replied, “I have not.”
He’s due back in court Jan. 3. It was unclear why Caneiro was limping.
In announcing the murder charges against Caneiro on Thursday, prosecutors outlined the disturbing Nov. 20 murders that have rocked the well-to-do town in Monmouth County.
They said Caneiro gunned down his brother and business partner, Keith, outside his million-dollar manse, then stormed inside to repeatedly stab Jennifer and the two children to death. Caneiro then set fire to the house — and drove back to his own home in Ocean Township to do the same to make it look like he, too, was a victim.
“The defendant intentionally set fire in his house at or about 5 a.m. for the purpose of both destroying evidence of his earlier crimes in Colts Neck and to also create the illusion that the overall Caneiro family was somehow victimized or targeted,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said Thursday.
Caneiro and his brother were business partners in two Asbury Park-based IT ventures — Square One and Jay-Martin Consulting. Prosecutors claim his motive to kill was “financial in nature” and connected to the brothers’ businesses.
No one was injured in the blaze at Paul Caneiro’s home. His wife, Susan, and adult daughters, Katelyn and Marissa, were inside at the time but managed to escape.
Caneiro’s family was not in court Friday — even though they’ve lauded him as a hero for saving them from the burning home and pledged to testify on his behalf.
“His family is supporting him but it’s just with what was going on this morning, we felt it better and safer for them not to be here,” Caneiro’s other lawyer, Richard Ansell, explained outside the courthouse. “We were consenting to detention. There was not going to be a hearing today so there really was no need for them to be here.”
Ansell reiterated that Caneiro was innocent.
“Paul Caneiro loved his brother, loved his sister-in-law like a sister, loved those children,” he said. “He would never do anything to harm them. There is no reason on this Earth to have harmed them.”
The lawyers said they’ve received not a shred of evidence against him but refused to speculate who was behind the murders.
“We are not now going to give you hypotheses as to who did this,” Ansell said. “This process now is to search for the truth. Our client maintains his innocence at this time and the process is now going to unfold.”
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