Judge: Text messages ‘provide the story’ in Eagle Rock slaying
(ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTORS OFFICE)
Defense attorneys were unable to convince a judge to release 71-year-old Michael Verdel to home detention this week, arguing he suffers from multiple health conditions and there was no indication he “had anything to do” with the killing of a man found shot dead at the Eagle Rock Reservation, according to published reports.
Verdel of the Bronx and Posley Sulaiman, 31, of Detroit are both accused in the death of Kelsey Steels, 31, of the Bronx. His body had been discovered by hikers March 4 near the border of West Orange and Montclair.
Verdel and Steels lived in the same apartment building on East 167th Street, authorities said in a criminal complaint cited by NJ.com. The complaint described Steels as Verdel’s “alleged best friend,” according to the report.
A report by NorthJersey.com cited Judge Martin Cronin saying at a detention hearing Monday that text messages submitted as evidence “provide the story,” providing probable cause linking Verdel to the homicide — despite Verdel’s account that he’d stated behind while Sulaiman and an unknown man walked into the Woods with Steels March 4, the morning of the shooting. Prosecutors also cited cell phone geolocation records and surveillance video.
Essex County authorities haven’t said they’re looking for any third suspect in the case.
The Essex County Prosecutor's Office said last week authorities allege Sulaiman and Verdel met Steels at his apartment in the Bronx, then brought him to the reservation, where he was shot.
The prosecutor's office said people who know Verdel refer to him as "the rabbi."
Verdel was taken into custody in New York and extradited to New Jersey. He has been charged with the first-degree offenses of murder, felony murder, conspiracy and robbery, as well as the second-degree offenses of unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Sulaiman remains in custody in New York at Rikers Island on a New York gun charge and has not yet had a detention hearing related to Steels’ death. For the Eagle Rock incident, he is charged with the first-degree offenses of murder, felony murder, conspiracy and robbery, and the second-degree offenses of unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Steels’ body had been found near the border between Montclair and West Orange in the reservation.
The NorthJersey.com report cited Felicia Garnes, an Essex County assistant prosecutor, saying at Verdel’s detention hearing that Steels’ pockets had been pulled outward, and he was found with no belongings. It also cited authorities saying Verdel and Sulaiman planned in text messages the day before the shooting to coax Steels to a remote location in New Jersey.
That report also cites authorities saying surveillance video shows Verdel, Steels and another person leaving Verdel’s apartment and getting into a BMW driven by Sulaiman. The car was then seen in further surveillance video at the Vince Lombardi Service Area, then on Prospect Avenue in West Orange, and then parked across from the reservation, the report cites prosecutors saying.
In the records cited by NJ.com, Verdel is described telling investigators the unknown man had gotten out of a second vehicle at the reservation, and walked into the woods with Steel and Sulaiman while Verdel stayed behind. But Verdel said only Sulaiman returned to the car from the woods, according to the report.