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Mystery Surrounds Alleged Murder Plot With Religious Overtones

February 20, 1992

CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) _ As 17-year-old Robert Solimine Jr. was buried Thursday, friends and investigators puzzled over the motive that could have led five suburban teen- agers to plot his ritualistic death.

Authorities said the five teens planned the killing during meetings at which prayers and Bible passages were read and medals depicting St. Joseph distributed.

Police said a 17-year-old former altar boy strangled Solimine as they sat praying a ″Hail Mary″ in a parked car late Sunday night.

In searching for a motive, police were looking into reports that Solimine tattled on friends, telling their parents they were drinking alcohol.

″But it’s ludicrous - the stories we’re hearing are such silly, insignificant stuff,″ said Capt. James Territo. ″These are normal kids with normal family backgrounds. How they conspired to do something horrendous like this, over such an insignificant matter, it’s amazing.″

″There is just no motive that will satisfy a sane, intelligent person,″ said Passaic County Prosecutor Ronald Fava. ″No satanism, no drugs, no fight over a girl.″

Also charged are a 14-year-old who was in the car; two other boys ages 14 and 17 who were in another car parked nearby, and Frank Castaldo, 18. The juveniles’ names weren’t released.

The juvenile suspects were being held at a juvenile detention center. Castaldo was held at the county jail in Paterson on $500,000 bail.

Fava said Castaldo controlled the group, which held weekly meetings since November to plot against Solimine, and that two previous schemes failed.

A lawyer for one of the 14-year-olds said the plan was just to scare Solimine. The lawyer, Andrew J. Blair, said Solimine was a ″hanger-on,″ resented by the others because he would tell their parents if he saw them drinking.

″I think the game being played between these individuals was, ’Let’s show him something to keep him quiet,‴ Blair said. When his client ″saw a wide- eyed look in the victim’s face and realized the game had gone too far,″ he tried to stop it, the lawyer said.

Anthony Pope, the attorney for the alleged killer, described him as an honor student and catechism teacher who lives with his grandparents and was due to enter the Marine Corps in November.

The alleged strangler is believed to be the one who introduced religious symbolism to the group’s meetings, Territo said. The youth is a former altar boy and a lector at St. Clare Roman Catholic Church.

His pastor, Msgr. Brendan Madden, said he knows him as a ″fine kid″ and ″a faithful member of the church.″

Fava said the youths were praying a ″Hail Mary″ in the car. ″When they got to the line, ‘Now and at the hour of our death,’ he flipped the cord over the seat and proceeded to strangle Mr. Solimine,″ he said. Solimine’s body was found in the car in a school parking lot early Monday.

The Rev. Victor Mazza, who conducted Solimine’s funeral, said he couldn’t understand the connection between the teen-agers’ religious practices and the killing.

″It makes no sense to me at all,″ Mazza said after the funeral. ″It’s a direct contradiction to our prayers.″

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