A man who admitted dismembering his girlfriend and cooking her head in a pot had his murder conviction overturned Monday by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Trial errors cast doubt on the fairness of the jury's verdict against George Jenewicz for the gruesome 1998 murder of Eunice Gillens, the state's highest court ruled in a 5-2 decision.
Jenewicz had been living with Gillens in South River and testified at his 2002 trial that he shot her in self-defense following a fight and dismembered her in a panic. He said he put her head in a pot to boil away her features.
Prosecutors at the trial described Jenewicz as a remorseless killer who shot the 42-year-old woman in the heart at point-blank range, then dragged her body to his basement and used an ax and a hammer to sever her head and arms.
Jenewicz, now 54, asserted on appeal that the trial judge improperly barred testimony from two proposed defense witnesses, including Gillens' mother, and that the prosecution disparaged and improperly cross-examined a defense expert.
He wanted Gillens' mother to testify that her daughter had said she chased Jenewicz with a shotgun, and one occasion had kicked him down a staircase because he had tied her up.
An appellate court rejected his arguments, but the Supreme Court majority accepted them, ruling in an unsigned opinion that the cumulative effect "prejudiced the fairness of defendant's trial and, therefore, casts doubt on the propriety of the jury verdict that was the product of that trial."
The opinion noted, however, "that the state presented powerful evidence to undermine defendant's self defense claim."
The dissenting opinion maintained: "Defendant's gruesome conduct after the killings bears on his consciousness of guilt ... and adds to the state's case."
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, which tried Jenewicz, is "preparing to retry the case," Assistant Prosecutor Nancy A. Hulett said.
An attorney for Jenewicz, Assistant Deputy Public Defender Daniel V. Gautieri, said he did not know when a new trial would be held.
"It could take quite a while, especially for a new attorney, to come up to speed on what the case is all about," Gautieri said.
Jurors at Jenewicz's first trial rejected the death penalty, sentencing him to life in prison. New Jersey has since abolished the death penalty so life again would be the maximum penalty.
Jenewicz is being held at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.