MAYS LANDING - "I did not try to kill him," the teen accused in the deadly beating of a senior citizen walking home from an Atlantic City bar said Monday in Superior Court.
Jonathan Perez, 18, made his first appearance in adult court, after being waived up from juvenile charges Thursday.
Perez was 17 when he allegedly attacked Al Kessleski, 71, on July 29 outside the man's apartment building on Georgia and Atlantic avenues. Kessleski - known as "Little Al" - had just crossed the street from the Ducktown Tavern at about 2 a.m. when he was struck in the head with a milk crate, the charges state.
Perez used his "hands, feet and a plastic milk crate" to beat Kessleski, "stomping on his head when he fell to the ground," Superior Court Judge Michael Donio said, reading from the charges. The victim's wallet was also taken.
Kessleski never regained consciousness, and died in the hospital four days later. Perez already was in custody by then, arrested the night after the attack at his Florida Avenue home - just a block from where Kessleski was found beaten and bloodied. The charges were then upgraded to murder and felony murder.
Perez, who speaks only Spanish, heard the claims against him through court-appointed interpreter Carmen Sacco.
When asked if he had any questions, he replied: "I did not try to kill him."
But the judge said it was not the time to talk about the facts of the case, and again asked if there were any questions.
Perez spoke again, and Sacco began translating, although hesitating: "Two gentlemen told me to hit ..."
Donio then interrupted.
"Sir, I want you to say nothing about the incident alleged," the judge said.
"What exactly do you want me to tell you?" Perez then asked.
Donio explained that the defendant did not need to tell him anything. He then tried to make sure Perez understood the charges. Perez said he did.
"I better stop here before you say something that can be held against you," Donio then said.
Kessleski's niece - who was unable to attend Monday's brief hearing - said she was happy with the decision to try Perez as an adult.
"It's a wonderful thing," Catherine DeLeon said. "It will give Al some kind of justice, hopefully."
Perez is being held in the Atlantic County Justice Facility on $500,000 full cash or bond. He said he had a lawyer for an apparently unrelated matter, and then indicated he would need a public defender.
The charges of murder and felony murder - a killing that occurs during the commission of another crime - carry a potential life sentence. Perez also is charged with armed robbery, robbery, possession of a weapon (the milk crate) and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
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