ELIZABETH — An city man was sentenced to 30 years in state prison for the brutal slaying a 92-year-old woman in her home during a 2012 robbery, under a sentenced handed down Friday afternoon by state Superior Court Judge Frederic R. McDaniel.
Daniel Rios, 40, was arrested a few days after Annette Hempel was found dead in her Jefferson Avenue home by her sister on May 24, 2012, according to Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park.
Prosecutors say Rios forced his way in to to burglarize Hempel’s house, but she answered the door. When Hempel started screaming as the burglar forced his way into the home, Rios placed his hand over her mouth, brought her to the ground in an effort to silence her, and caused her death by asphyxiation.
Although he ransacked the home looking for valuables, Rios found only about $360 in loose change. The killer then went to a nearby Stop & Shop, converted the change to cash and took a bus toward Newark.
“I’m speechless. I’ve never had a case so horrendous,” McDaniel said before saying Rios must serve the entire 30-year term before becoming eligible for parole. “The absolute disregard for human life is difficult to comprehend.”
The victim, Annette Hempel, was a nearly lifelong Elizabeth resident and widow who lived alone on the first floor of her home on the 600 block of Jefferson Avenue, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Caroline Lawlor, who prosecuted the case.
Hempel’s body was discovered by a family member later that afternoon, and an intensive joint investigation involving the Union County Homicide Task Force and the Elizabeth Police Department led to the identification of Rios as a suspect. He was arrested and charged several days after Hempel was found dead, and last September a Union County grand jury returned a four-count indictment charging Rios with burglary, robbery, murder, and felony murder.
Rios, who had nine prior indictable convictions, pleaded guilty in June.
Several members of Hempel’s family appeared in court Friday, when Lawlor read statements written by them into the record.
Calling her murder “cowardly” and “inhuman,” Hempel’s relatives described the elderly victim as a caring, happy person with strong ties to her neighborhood, noting that during the hours leading up to her death, she had been trimming a tree on her property to make sure that passersby wouldn’t strike their heads on low-hanging branches.
“She didn’t deserve an ending like the one she got,” Lawlor said, reading from a letter written by Hempel’s niece, Amy Sloane. “It was ruthless, cruel, and painful, and it was anguishing for her large and loving family.”
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