JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The upstairs tenant of an Egyptian Christian family found slain in their home in January and another man have been charged in the killings, and authorities said Friday the motive was robbery, not religious fanaticism.
Two men already on parole for drug offenses pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder in the Jan. 11 killing of the Armanious family (search), which had caused tension between Christians and Muslims in New Jersey.
Edward McDonald, 25, who rented a second-floor apartment above the Armanious family, and Hamilton Sanchez, 30, were ordered held on $10 million bail.
"I didn't kill nobody, man," Sanchez said as he was led from the courtroom. McDonald, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and black pants, stared at the floor during the hearing.
Authorities said Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife, Amal Garas, 37, and their children, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were slain three days before their bodies, bound and gagged with puncture wounds to their heads and necks, were found Jan. 14.
In the days after the slayings, about $3,000 was withdrawn from Armanious' bank account using his ATM card, and investigators were able to get surveillance video from cameras over those cash machines, officials said.
Both men were arrested Thursday.
"I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear: The motive for these murders was robbery. This was a crime based on greed, the desperate need of money," Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said.
DeFazio said officials believe a planned robbery spiraled out of control when the 8-year-old loosened her bonds and recognized McDonald. He is accused of killing her to avoid identification, and Sanchez is accused of killing the three others, DeFazio said.
McDonald was questioned the day the bodies were found, but was not charged then.
Prosecutors said McDonald was on parole following a conviction for possession of more than 500 grams of cocaine with intent to distribute, and Sanchez was on parole for a 1995 conviction on charges of conspiring to import "significant amounts" of heroin and cocaine into the country.
The slaying had caused speculation that Hossam Armanious might have angered Muslims with opinions he posted in Internet chat rooms under the user name "I Love Jesus." The arrests were welcomed by Christian and Muslim groups who said they were disturbed by the religious tension.
"Everybody is relieved that there is no religious implication behind it," said Maged Riad, a spokesman for the worldwide head of the Coptic Church (search), Pope Shenouda.