Recent Developments in the Case of
New Jersey’s Slain Coptic Family
Two Arrests and Still Too Many Questions
Seven weeks after the discovery of a Coptic Christian family, found slain in their Jersey City home, police have arrested two felons in connection with the grisly murder that horrified a nation and garnered almost constant media coverage. On Friday 4 March 2005, Edward McDonald, 25, and Hamilton Sanchez, 30, were charged in the 11 January 2005 brutal stabbing of Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife, Amal Garas, 37, and the couple’s two daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8.
One of the suspects, Edward McDonald, lived with his wife and children in the second floor apartment they rented from the Armanious family. Immediately after the bodies were discovered on 14 January 2005, McDonald was detained for questioning by police but was subsequently released. He continued to live in the upstairs apartment with his family until police asked him to move out of the house.
McDonald was convicted in 2001 for delivering 500 grams of cocaine to an undercover agent. Hamilton Sanchez was convicted in 1994 of weapons possession and later sentenced to 151 months in federal prison on conspiracy to import heroin into the United States.
Investigators allege that McDonald, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, met Sanchez on the front porch of the Armanious home at approximately 7:30 p.m. on the night of 11 January. Wearing ski masks, the two men knocked on the front door and forced their way into the home when Amal Garas answered. Once inside the home, they blindfolded and gagged the mother and her two daughters and waited for the father to come home. When Mr. Armanious returned to his home, between 9:30 and 10 p.m., he too was gagged and blindfolded.
McDonald and Sanchez held the family at gunpoint for several hours demanding the ATM bank card and pass code in order to access the family’s bank account. At some point Monica, the younger daughter, managed to free herself, pulled down her blindfold and tried to escape. McDonald, fearing the girl might recognize him as the upstairs tenant even though he continued to wear his ski mask, chased her into a bathroom where he stabbed her to death using a knife he found in the home. Sanchez then began stabbing the three remaining family members in the throat and other parts of their bodies.
The next day police allege that McDonald used the ATM bank card and pass code to withdraw money from the Armanious account. Over the next week other withdrawals were made, each for several hundred dollars, from different bank locations totaling more than $3,000.
Police became aware of the withdrawals when they intercepted a letter from Bank of America mailed to the Armanious home stating that the ATM bank card was being suspended due to the pattern of unusual withdrawals.
The Police then recovered bank surveillance video from the locations of the withdrawals and recognized McDonald. Information given by McDonald led to the arrest of Sanchez.
Bail has been set at $10 million in cash for each of the two suspects. McDonald asked to be placed into protective custody. His request was granted.
Both men have denied committing the murders. As he was being led out of the courtroom where he and McDonald were charged with four counts each of felony murder, Sanchez kept repeating "I didn’t kill nobody".
But these arrests have failed to put an anxious community at ease as many people do not believe that McDonald and Sanchez were the only killers. Nor does the violence and magnitude of this case suggest robbery.
The theories put forth by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office do not answer all of the questions, and in fact raise additional issues, namely:
Police have stated that they do not believe that the gun McDonald brought with him into the Armanious home was ever fired. If the suspects had their own weapon why did they instead use knives from the Armanious home to stab their victims?
If the suspects were only interested in the ATM bank card and pass code presumably they could have obtained this from Amal Garas without having to wait until Hossam Armanious returned from work.
Is it likely that Hossam Armanious would compromise his family’s safety and endure the torture for the sake of refusing to provide the suspects with his ATM bank card and pass code?
Is it likely that McDonald would murder the family downstairs and then continue to live in the apartment upstairs knowing that police would undoubtedly question him in light of his prison record?
Sanchez lived in a halfway house in Newark, NJ where he was subject to an 11 p.m. curfew. Residents who fail to return to the halfway house on time are placed on ‘escape status’ which leads to the issuance of an arrest warrant. No such warrant was issued for Sanchez on the night of 11 January.
Both McDonald and Sanchez continued to dutifully report to work at their respective jobs after the discovery of the slain family. Coworkers reported that neither of the suspects displayed any unusual behavior during this time.
The Northeast Intelligence Network has reported that it received information from prison sources about McDonald and his activities while serving in a federal prison for cocaine distribution. During his incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institute at Fort Dix, Edward McDonald reportedly associated with a group of inmates who were actively involved in Islamic counseling and received radical fundamentalist Islamic literature. It is unknown at this time if police are investigating this connection.
His Grace Bishop David, who publicly cautioned against jumping to conclusions before any evidence was presented, has said that the information made available to the public after the arrests seems less than complete. "What we asked for was two things: the whole truth and justice. If it is true that this is the whole truth, then everybody is ready to accept it. This will give a lot of peace to our people. But a lot of things are not clear yet … It’s very difficult to believe that four people were killed just to steal a card to take some money out of an ATM machine. A lot of things need to be explained in more detail."
It is interesting to note that Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio has said that investigators are continuing to search for additional suspects in connection with this murder case.
This case and the search for answers continue.
Information for this article comes from reports published in The Star Ledger (New Jersey) and the Jersey Journal (Jersey City)
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