Superior Court Judge Yolanda Rodriguez agreed with prosecutors that Carlos Acevedo would be a flight risk if released. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cathleen McGrath.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 12, 2023
A Camden City man accused of killing a Haddon Township woman and allegedly attempting to cover it up will remain behind bars until his next court appearance.
On Tuesday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Yolanda Rodriguez ruled that 53-year-old Carlos Acevedo, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cathleen McGrath, 26, of Haddon Township, should not be granted pretrial release.
Rodriguez sided with Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Spittal in his arguments that Acevedo “has failed to rebut the presumption of pretrial detention” on charges of first-degree murder and second-degree disturbing/desecrating human remains.
Notwithstanding Acevedo’s lack of a criminal history, “the state has demonstrated, by clear and convincing evidence, that no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions, or combination of non-monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure defendant’s appearance in court where required,” the judge said.
Rodriguez’s determination was based on arguments presented by Spittal about the circumstances around Acevedo’s arrest, the fact that he’d had prior communication with McGrath, and conflicting stories the defendant allegedly gave to his employer and ex-wife before closing out his bank accounts and preparing to travel to Mexico.
McGrath was last seen at 2 p.m. October 27, according to her Haddon Township family, who reported her missing November 1. When detectives began reviewing surveillance video systems located in areas of Camden City that McGrath was known to frequent, Spittal said they allegedly recorded her entering Acevedo’s residence in the 1200 block of Jackson Street.
Phone records showed that Acevedo and McGrath had been in contact, but prosecutors couldn’t explain the nature of their relationship “because Ms. McGrath’s family don’t know who this defendant is,” Spittal said.
The prosecutor alleged that McGrath never re-emerged from the house on Jackson Street, but that Acevedo did, the following morning, “carrying a large object resembling the body of Ms. McGrath,” he said. No other person was seen entering or leaving the building in that time.
Acevedo allegedly delivered that object to the back of his Chevrolet S10 pickup truck, which investigators followed on camera to the area of 8th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Camden City.
McGrath’s remains were found there by Camden County Metro Police on the afternoon of November 15, wrapped in plastic bags and electrical tape.
The tri-county medical examiner ruled the manner of McGrath’s death to have been homicide, but a cause of death could not be determined because her head had been removed from the body.
Spittal said that neither McGrath’s head nor the tool or weapon used to remove it have yet been recovered by investigators; a portion of her vertebra has been sent for study by New Jersey State Police forensic anthropologists to make that determination.
Both the home and the vehicle are registered to Acevedo, but the truck was dropped off on the morning of October 28 by his ex-wife, who was the sole witness cited by authorities in the case.
On November 28, Acevedo allegedly closed two bank accounts, opened another with a cash deposit of more than $132,000, and deposited $10,000 into an account belonging to his ex-wife. By her account, Spittal said, Acevedo allegedly was planning to travel to Mexico to seek medical treatment for arthritis.
That day, investigators served a warrant at Acevedo’s Camden City home, where he was arrested. Spittal said that Acevedo exercised his right to remain silent, and requested to speak with an attorney.
During the search of his home, investigators found blood spatter in Acevedo’s bathtub, at the top of his stairs, and in an upstairs bedroom; they also located trash bags and electrical tape that Spittal said matched those found wrapped around McGrath’s body. Forensics analysts are testing the bags, tape, and hair and fingerless gloves found within the bags for evidence, Spittal said.
A day after searching Acevedo’s home, investigators spoke with his supervisor and other colleagues at Capital Building Supplies, where he’d worked for nearly seven years. They said Acevedo had told them that he’d had a family emergency and needed to leave for Mexico, which didn’t match the story he’d told his ex-wife.
Given the violent nature of the alleged offense, the fact that the victim’s body was dismembered, bagged, and dumped elsewhere in an effort to conceal what had happened; the manipulation of a large sum of money; and the differing accounts of Acevedo’s planned departure, Spittal argued that “there are no conditions that would assure the defendant’s appearance in court, or that he wouldn’t obstruct the criminal justice system.
“We don’t know the circumstances surrounding this incident,” Spittal said.
“We don’t know why Ms. McGrath was killed; ultimately, we don’t know whether we will ever know the answers to that. This defendant did this in the privacy of his own home.
“At one point, this residence was a bloody mess before he decided to clean it up,” he said. “We know that there was blood at the top of the stairwell, in the tub, and on the walls of the second-floor bedroom. A month later, crime detectives are still able to see that blood on the wall, on the floors, and in the tub, after he attempted to clean that up.
“We also know there was a struggle,” Spittal continued. “The reason this scene was so bloody was because the defendant removed Ms. McGrath’s head. He then had the courage and the nerve to walk that body across a busy street to the truck… I don’t know if Ms. McGrath’s death was planned, but this defendant certainly thought out the plan to remove the body from his home and conceal that body.”
Public defender Rachel Schwarz argued that although the prosecution had provided footage of both the victim and the accused entering Acevedo’s residence as evidence in establishing the timeline of its case, “it’s incredibly challenging to identify anybody from the footage.
“The victim, if she is present in the footage, is a great distance from the camera,” Schwarz said. “Footage did not provide that clear view; it’s hard to see whether anyone entered or exited the residence.”
Schwarz also argued that Acevedo scored low on risk assessments of his likelihood of committing new criminal activity, violent activity, or failing to appear in court. Acevedo has been convicted of one disorderly persons offense more than 10 years ago — loitering for the purposes of engaging in prostitution — and no violent convictions.
“The court has nothing to suggest he wouldn’t follow a court order,” Schwarz said. “[Acevedo] has three children in Camden or Collingswood [and]his ex-wife is supportive of him.”
Spittal, however, argued that the proximity of Acevedo’s family to the case was also problematic.
“[Acevedo’s] ex-wife obviously has interest in this case; there is the opportunity for this defendant to tamper with that witness,” he said.
“His relationship with ex-wife and children was basically non-existent, based on the interviews that they gave to law enforcement. I believe that he doesn’t have any ties to this community other than his residence.”
The prosecutor also alleged that Acevedo “has tampered with physical evidence in this case,” and “is an extreme flight risk, closing two bank accounts, moving over $142,000; claiming he has a medical issue.
“That flight risk and all of those facts constitute consciousness of guilt,” Spittal said. “Mr. Acevedo could serve 30 to life. That constitutes a flight risk.”
In upholding the prosecution’s request that Acevedo be detained until trial, Rodriguez said that the court “considers those particular, disturbing circumstances in the case, and gives them great weight.
“The court is concerned, given these serious charges, that the defendant is a flight risk,” the judge said.
“The court notes, and is concerned about, the timing of the defendant closing bank accounts after the detectives executed the search warrant, and the defendant’s differing explanations for reasons why he is going to leave the country,” Rodriguez said.
“The court is also concerned that there is no condition that would ensure that the defendant would not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process,” she later added.
Acevedo has seven days to appeal the decision. His next court appearance is scheduled for February 21, 2024.
All persons charged with crimes are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. An arrest is not a conviction.
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