MAYS LANDING - The ex-convict accused of putting a hit out on an Egg Harbor City woman who was killed last year is in federal custody for allegedly trying to buy guns two months after the slaying.

Rafael Olmo, 27, also of Egg Harbor City, had his first appearance in court Thursday on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly paying two men to carry out a hit on Deanna Downs. The 29-year-old mother of two was found fatally shot Oct. 17 behind her Harbor City Apartments home. It was the second killing in the complex in about a year - and the second in which Olmo faces charges.

Olmo is accused of paying Mario Adams, 28, of Hammonton, and Dontay Matthews, 21, of the Elwood section of Mullica Township, to kill Downs. Adams allegedly shot her in the face Oct. 16.

"Do you understand the charges against you?" Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury asked Olmo.

He did not initially answer, turning to attorney John Zarych instead. DeLury asked again.

"No," Olmo said.

"Do you understand English?" DeLury asked.

Olmo then said he was not sure about his attorney and had not gotten a chance to speak with Zarych before being brought into the courtroom.

"Do you understand English?" DeLury repeated.

"Yes, it's what we're speaking now," Olmo replied.

Olmo also is connected to another killing in the Harbor City Apartments. On Oct. 12, 2009, Sandy Thomas, 30, died after he and his cousin were shot during a party there. The cousin, Shawn Travis, 24, was wounded.

Olmo was charged with two counts of aggravated assault in that case, along with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. He was indicted only on the weapons offense, and the shooting case remains an open investigation. The weapons case is still pending.

Olmo originally was charged in Down's slaying last week but did not appear in court with Adams and Matthews because he is in federal custody in a drugs-and-guns case.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Maher said the state had no control over when Olmo could appear, and that is why he did not have his first appearance within 72 hours of the charges being filed, as normally required. Zarych did not argue the extended timeline.

Olmo has been in federal custody since Dec. 17, when he allegedly tried to buy three guns from a man in the parking lot of Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township, a complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Daniel Garrabrant says. He allegedly was going to pay $900 and an ounce of cocaine for the weapons.

Weeks before, Olmo told the man he needed guns and ammunition, Garrabrant wrote, citing taped conversations and cell phone texts between Olmo and the unnamed man, who was working as a confidential informant.

During one recorded meeting, Olmo asked the informant if the gun is fully automatic, and then says he was "going to ‘rip' the police if they came after him," Garrabrant wrote.

Olmo met the man at about 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17, and was arrested as the two stood at the informant's trunk to retrieve the guns, the complaint says.

As he was arrested, Olmo allegedly threw two baggies away: both contained a powder that tested positive for cocaine, Garrabrant wrote. One of the baggies also contained nine ecstasy pills and one Viagra.

Olmo went to the ground and was arrested. Garrabrant wrote that when Olmo was asked if he was going to run, he told an agent "he was not, but if he had a gun he would have shot (the informant) in the head."

He also had about $2,400 in cash on him, the complaint states.

Zarych would not comment on that case, but has said his client denies involvement in either shooting.

Olmo's bail is $1 million in the murder case, but he is in federal custody without bail.

Adams is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and weapons offenses, and is being held in the Atlantic County Jail on $1 million bail. Matthews, whose bail is set at $300,000, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

609-272-7257

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