Man guilty of ‘cold-blooded, brutal murder’ will be in prison into his 90s

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Yolanda Vega, 35, was found slain in her Rahway, New Jersey home on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. / CBS NEW YORK

NEW JERSEY — An Essex County man who murdered a woman inside her Rahway home three years ago has been sentenced to 55 years in state prison for the crime, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Monday.

Roberto Grillo, 39, of Bloomfield must serve a minimum of slightly more than 51 years in state prison before becoming eligible for parole under the terms set down Friday by state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch.

Members of the Union County Homicide Task Force and the Rahway Police Department responded to a home on Beacon Street in Rahway during the early hours of Monday, December 7, 2015 and found the body of 35-year-old Yolanda Vega inside; she was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Spagnoli, who prosecuted the case. An autopsy performed by the Union County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Vega’s manner of death to be homicide, with the cause of death determined to be strangulation, Spagnoli said.

An intensive joint investigation involving the Homicide Task Force, the Prosecutor’s Office’s High Tech Unit, the Rahway Police Department, the Linden Police Department, and the Union County Sheriff’s Office Identification Unit resulted in Grillo, who was known to Vega and her family, being identified as a suspect in the case. He was charged approximately one week after Vega’s death while in custody at Union County Jail, having been arrested by Linden police for trespassing at the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery in Linden on the evening of Sunday, December 6, 2015 – approximately 90 minutes after Vega was killed, and at a location less than half a mile from her home.

Immediately following the murder charge being filed, bail for Grillo was set at $2 million by state Superior Court Judge William Daniel. A Union County grand jury handed down a 10-count indictment against Grillo in May 2016, charging him with first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, second-degree burglary, six related weapons offenses, and fourth-degree criminal trespassing; he was convicted of all 10 counts following a month-long trial that ended in October 2018.

The victim’s sister and the father of Vega’s two children read statements into the record during Friday’s sentencing, when Judge Kirsch described how Vega had been “nothing but kind and gracious” to Grillo in the time they knew each other, repeatedly inviting him into her home and offering meals. The investigation had revealed that Grillo’s original target that night was a relative of Vega, but instead he broke into her home, strangled her, left her body in the basement, and fled, discarding bloodied clothing in the process.

The victim’s blood was also later recovered from Grillo’s shoe following his arrest.

“This was a cold-blooded, brutal murder,” Kirsch said. “If it doesn’t constitute depravity, I don’t know what does … the public at large has to know that it’s intolerable, and Mr. Grillo needs to be removed from society … for a substantial period of time.”

Spagnoli said the harm done to the victim’s family by Grillo’s actions was immeasurable.

“What’s good enough, for this family?” she asked at sentencing. “There is no number of years that is.”

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