Closing arguments in April Kauffman murder trial

‘There’s not once piece of evidence that proves I killed this woman,’ Ferdinand ‘Freddy’ Augello says regarding the murder of April Kauffman.

MAYS LANDING — When Damon G. Tyner took office a year and a half ago, the April Kauffman murder case still had several loose ends.

Last week, most of those loose ends were tied up as prosecutors successfully convinced a jury that Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello hired someone to kill the local veterans advocate and radio host in her bedroom of her Linwood home on the morning of May 10, 2012.

“It was almost like unpeeling an onion. We had a lot of info, we had a lot of leads, but it required a lot of manpower to investigate,” Tyner said Wednesday, one day after the jury returned a guilty verdict after deliberating for two hours.

Tyner was finally free to speak about the case this week after Judge Bernard DeLury lifted a gag order put in place in July at the request of the prosecution.

Defense attorney Mary Linehan could not be reached for comment.

Since taking office, Tyner and his assistant prosecutors unraveled a winding plot that intertwined players from across counties and sometimes states. In court, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy was tasked with weaving the tale of a doctor obsessed with money and public image, willing to kill his wife to save his “empire,” and a drug ring involving a former motorcycle gang leader who hired the hitman in exchange for a few thousand dollars.

Tyner said Dr. James Kauffman was asked in 2012 whether anyone would want to kill his wife.

A letter to his then lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, went unanswered for five years until Tyner took office. The reply, which became known in court as “the Jacobs Letter,” pointed blame at Augello, 62, of Upper Township, and hitman Francis Mulholland, 46, of Villas, who died in October 2013 of a drug overdose.

“Quite frankly, we had already had those names in our file along with other names as a result of a variety of investigations that were going on,” Tyner said. “It wasn’t as if Mr. Jacobs provided us with information that we hadn’t already gleaned from other sources, but it was yet another peg in the hole.”

Tyner described the investigation into April Kauffman’s murder prior to his taking office in 2017 as “an omission of effort.”

“There were things that needed to be done that were never done,” he said.

One of those things was obtaining DNA from James Kauffman, which Tyner said his office was able to do in May 2017.

“It was helpful on a lot of levels,” Tyner said, but did not give specific details.

He said it was not the smoking gun, but showed Kauffman’s untruthfulness.

“It enabled us to determine that we had a lot more work to do,” he said. “For instance, he testified in the deposition to certain facts that he said were true and the presence of that DNA would have made that impossible.”

Tyner said he couldn’t comment on whether previous prosecutors could have brought charges in the case in the five years before he took office.

“I know the case that I inherited, I know the priority that I put on getting this matter solved and it came at a great expense. There was a lot of man hours that were used for this case, and I would rather be forward-thinking,” he said.

One thing that never came up in the trial, despite a motion by the defense to include it as evidence, was James Kauffman’s suicide note.

The doctor was found dead in his jail cell in January, two weeks after the murder charges were announced. DeLury ultimately ruled that the note left behind by James Kauffman should be included as evidence. Tyner said the decision not to bring it up in court was because it didn’t play a role in Augello’s case.

“At the end of the day, Jim Kauffman wasn’t on trial,” Tyner said. “There were a lot of issues for the jury to decide. But whether or not Jim Kauffman played a direct role in it as far as the death of April Kauffman, that was already apparent and that wasn’t an issue, so it wasn’t necessary for us to share some of that information.”

The strategy worked with jurors, who took little time before rendering a verdict, said a retired Atlantic County Superior Court judge.

“The state prepared their case in an easy-to-follow fashion, in chronological order of events, and the jury evidently went through it the way they would go through a well-written novel,” retired judge Michael Donio said.

He said the defense only put on one witness, so really the case came down to whether the state’s case was believable and whether everything fit.

Tyner was confident that, after this case, the only answer its office couldn’t produce was the location of the gun that killed April Kauffman.

Now, Tyner said, the Prosecutor’s Office is moving on to other cases.

“At the conclusion of anything like that, it’s kind of like the wind-down. Like you won the Super Bowl, now what?” said Tyner. “But I think the morale in the office is very good, and I think people have mentally, a long time ago, moved on to so many other matters that are active investigations in the office.”