Businessman pleads not guilty in slaying of brother’s family in Colts Neck

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey businessman accused of killing his brother, his brother’s wife and two children pleaded not guilty Monday to felony murder and other charges, the same day his defense lawyers withdrew from the case due to recently discovered conflicts of interest.

Michael Wicke, a public defender for Paul Caneiro, 52, entered the pleas on his behalf during a five-minute court hearing in Freehold, New Jersey.

Paul Caneiro is accused of killing his brother, sister-in-law and the couple’s two children then setting fire to their Colts Neck home on Nov. 20, 2018. (Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office)

Monmouth County prosecutors have said Caneiro’s brother, Keith, was planning to cut him off financially because he was suspicious of Paul over missing money from two companies they owned at the Jersey shore. The next day, Keith Caneiro and his family were found dead in their burning mansion in Colts Neck.

An indictment handed up late last month charges Paul Caneiro with murder, felony murder, aggravated arson and a weapons offense. He also faces counts of theft, misapplication of entrusted property and hindering his own apprehension.

Caneiro had previously been represented by private attorneys Robert Honecker Jr. and Mitchell Ansell, who maintained his innocence. However, they said they determined they could no longer represent him because a review of materials recently released by prosecutors found “at least two separate and clear” conflicts of interest.

The attorneys’ statement did not specify those conflicts, and they declined to elaborate on the matter after the hearing. They said their decision to withdraw came “after great debate and discussion within our firm,” and noted that prosecutors and the trial judge had agreed with their assessment that “our continued representation of Mr. Caniero would be impossible at this time.”

The two attorneys have said Paul Caneiro loved his family, had no reason to harm them and had been “wrongly accused.”

Colts Neck police were dispatched to Keith Caneiro’s mansion in New Jersey horse country on Nov. 20 after a neighbor reported the house was on fire. Officers found Keith Caneiro’s body on the lawn; he had been shot once in the lower back and four times in the head.

Inside the mansion were the bodies of his wife, Jennifer, their 11-year-old son Jesse and 8-year-old daughter Sophia. The children were stabbed multiple times; their mother was shot and stabbed.

Prosecutors have said that after he committed the slayings, Paul Caneiro set a slow-burning fire in the mansion and returned to his own family’s home in Ocean Township to set it on fire in a ruse to make it look like the Caneiro family was being targeted by someone else. His wife and two daughters were inside, but no one was injured.

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