The Union County Homicide Task Force arrested a 51-year old man Monday, April 2 in connection with the 1976 murder of Westfield resident Lena Triano.
Triano, 57, was discovered hogtied inside her 616 Ripley Pl. home on Monday March 15, 1976, after having been stabbed, bludgeoned and raped. were sent to her home after receiving a call from her brother when she failed to report to work that morning.
Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said Tuesday morning that the 51-year-old man arrested yesterday at his place of business can't be identified to the public because he was younger than 16 at the time of the murder.
"The protection that is offered this defendant will continue in that the individual will be tried in the juvenile court unless he waives his right and wishes to be tried in an adult court," Romankow said. "I intend to file a motion to release his name. The reason juvenile information is not released is to protect the juvenile. This person is 51 years old, therefore, I think the public's right to know is more important than protecting a 51-year-old accused murderer. I can tell you, it's very frustrating when you know you have to try someone who is 51 years of age as a juvenile."
Romankow said a juvenile who is "adjudicated delinquent for homicide" can be sentenced to "an indeterminate term not to exceed life" in prison.
"We're finding out what the minimum time period is that he would have to serve," Romankow said. "There is no bail, but he's being held and will be until a subsequent hearing, a release hearing; of course we'll object to him being released."
Romankow commended Vinny Byron, lead detective in the case, who previously worked in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, and Sgt. Harvey Barnwell, who heads the task force, for their outstanding work in making the arrest. The "cold case," having taken place 36 years ago, is the oldest in which an arrest has been made.
Barnwell said the accused, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder, had "no reaction" yesterday at the time of his arrest.
Evidence that included what Triano was wearing at the time of her murder was held at the Westfield Police Department and obtained by Byron. Scientific testing provides evidence to show that the accused, who claimed he did not know Triano, raped her, Romankow said.
Romankow also praised the WPD for assisting in yesterday's arrest and for properly preserving the evidence. Byron commended Westfield Police Officers Nicole Stivale and Lt. John Ricerca for their assistance as well as Monica Ghannam, the scientist in Union County's forensic lab.
"This was not a random murder, we think," Romankow said. "The person lived in the area. And again it shows that in many cases you have to look within your surrounding areas, not just with the family and friends, but to the neighbors to obtain leads on a homicide."
Romankow said in the past three years the Union County Homicide Task Force has been extremely effective in solving what would have otherwise been unsolved homicides. The solve rate has nearly doubled, from roughly 40 percent to nearly 80 percent.
Triano was remembered by neighbors as a quiet, unassuming woman who worked as a secretary at a Newark law firm. The class of 1937 graduate had this written about her in the school's yearbook 'The Weather Vane': "To be a private secretary is the ambition of this dependable student, efficient helper, and excellent athlete."
Triano has two nieces, one in Cranford and one in Scotch Plains, as well as a grand niece. Investigators said Triano's Cranford relative was told of the arrest.
"She was very, very happy to say the least," Byron said.
Anyone with any information regarding this crime or any other crime involving a victim being hogtied is asked to call the Union County Prosecutor's Office at 908-527-4500.
*Note: This story has been amended to include additional surviving relatives of Triano's.