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By SCOTT FROST Staff Writer
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. – John Denofa, the 35-year-old Buckingham man accused of killing a Bensalem exotic dancer in March, will be forced to stand trial in Burlington County on first degree murder charges.
After deliberation yesterday, Judge Kenneth G. Biehn felt that there was enough evidence against Denofa to move the murder trial to New Jersey, considering the body of Diva’s dancer Rachel Siani, 21, was found underneath the New Jersey side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge.
“Instead of going to the Jersey shore this weekend he’s going to a Jersey jail,” said David Zellis, the Bucks County First Assistant District Attorney. “We never shied away from the case but right now New Jersey has jurisdiction — it means this man is in serious trouble.”
Gov. Christie Whitman sent papers to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge asking for a warrant to extradite him to the Garden State in early April after a video from a Turnpike toll booth showed the alleged body of Siani in the back of Denofa’s red Dodge truck.
But Denofa’s attorney Frank Winters tried to convince the judge that there wasn’t enough evidence showing that his client was in New Jersey at the time of Siani’s death.
“All we heard is that the detective said this is the guy they want in New Jersey, but that is not enough,” Winters told the court. “No one specifically told you John Denofa is the one driving the truck.
“You can’t see whose driving and there was no testimony by (the detectives) that (Denofa) was driving that night.”
Winters also noted that fingerprints and photos used in the investigation all came from Bucks County and not Burlington County.
“It’s a technicality,” Winters said. “(But) we all know the law is made on technicality.”
But even after Winters tried to use the technicality plea — including a plea that Gov. Whitman never signed the affidavit, Biehn felt there was enough evidence to ship Denofa to the Garden State.
Biehn also stated that all the necessary papers were in order.
Zellis had John Villanil, of the New Jersey State police, show the toll booth video to the court yesterday — explaining to the court that the evidence from the video proved that Denofa was in New Jersey the day of the murder.
Villanil was shown pictures of Siani’s body, explaining to the court that they found blood, hair and fibers from Siani in Denofa’s truck.
Villanil also said Denofa allegedly tossed the dancer to her death in a jealous rage after the two went to a room at the Econo Lodge, that is attached to the gentleman’s club on Route 13 in Bristol.
The next morning Siani was found in a grassy area under the bridge wearing a blood-soaked white sweater, white socks and blue jeans, with police reports stating that she was also wearing a trademark butterfly necklace.
Detective David Kemmerer of the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office who assisted New Jersey with the investigation, told the court that they followed Denofa to his home on April 3 in the same red truck as in the toll booth video.
It was during Kemmerer’s encounter when Denofa admitted he went to the go-go bar that night and that he was the only person driving that vehicle.
He also admitted to answering to the first name Jack — which Denofa used when he registered at the hotel.
Denofa was transported to the Burlington County Jail last night, where he will have a first appearance hearing this afternoon, with Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi stating that bail should be set somewhere around $1 million.
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STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. JOHN A. DENOFA — (Justia)
Argued December 14, 2004 – Decided March 1, 2005
Defendant, John A. Denofa, was charged with and convicted of a single count of murdering Rachel Siani. See N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2). He was sentenced to a life-term of imprisonment with thirty years of parole ineligibility.
Later that same afternoon, Detective Victor Tunis of the Bristol Township Police Department responded to Diva’s and located Siani’s car, still parked in the lot. Tunis inventoried its contents at the Bristol Township police garage. He found Siani’s purse, a styrofoam container of noodles, several cigarettes that appeared to be marijuana joints, rolling papers, Prozac, and other personal effects.