FREEHOLD, N.J. — A juvenile court hearing for a 16-year-old accused of killing his parents, sister and a family friend was pushed to Wednesday but will be closed to the public, a Monmouth County judge decided Tuesday.
Juvenile court cases are usually closed but sometimes are opened to the media, especially if an offense is serious. The Asbury Park Press filed a motion to attend the hearing, but Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton denied the request.
"The charges are among the most severe that can be filed in the criminal justice system," lawyer Thomas J. Cafferty wrote in the motion. "Access to the proceedings will serve as a check on the fairness of those proceedings, promote the honesty of the judiciary, and provide insight and education to the public about the judicial system."
► Jan. 1: 16-year-old accused of killing family, friend on New Year's Eve
► Dec. 26: Four found dead in Troy, N.Y., home
► Dec. 26: Couple killed after warning teen daughter of boyfriend's racist views
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni did not reveal Tuesday whether he would try the youth in adult court. USA TODAY generally does not identify juvenile offenders until they face adult charges.
The case may very well end up in adult court, the teen’s public defender, Emeka Nkwuo, wrote in a brief. If so, his client would have to undergo evaluation by an expert.
“The publicity of the proceedings would undermine (the teen’s) confidence in the expert,” Nkwou wrote. “The expert report will contain school records and mental health records, which are not ordinarily made public.”
The next step in the case is a probable cause hearing that must occur within 48 hours of the juvenile being charged. For the teen to face adult charges, the prosecutor's office must file a motion to waive the suspect up to adult court within 60 days of his being taken into custody, Gramiccioni said.
Police found the suspect's father, Steven Kologi, 44; mother, Linda Kologi, 42; sister, Brittany Kologi, 18, all of Long Branch, N.J.; and family acquaintance, Mary Schultz, 70, of Ocean Township, N.J., minutes after a 911 call reporting shots fired on New Year's Eve. All four died at the Kologis' home of multiple gunshots fired at close range.
Three people who were not further identified — the suspect's grandfather, a brother and a woman in her 20s who was an acquaintance of one relative — left the house after hearing the shots and were not injured, said Gramiccioni, amending what authorities originally reported. One of those survivors made the 911 call.
They were not in the same room as the shootings, the prosecutor said.
“We think this was fairly sudden and quick,” Gramiccioni said when asked whether anyone could have prevented the attack.
The weapon the suspect used, a Century Arms semi-automatic rifle, contained a magazine that held 15 7.62-mm rounds.
New Jersey law requires gun owners to store loaded firearms in a locked container or secured with a trigger lock if they reasonably know a minor could have access to the weapon. Violators can face fines of up to $1,000 and jail.
The suspect is being held at the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center and is facing four counts of murder and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Family friends said the youth did not attend traditional public high school because of social and developmental disabilities.
The Kologi family also was in the midst of long-standing financial hardships, according to public records. Five months before the parents were killed, a bank tried to notify the couple that they were facing foreclosure on their home, and a 25-year-old there accepted notice of the proceedings.
The Kologis had three children, and Linda Kologi had a son from a previous relationship.
Steven Kologi Sr. and Linda Kologi had bought their house in 2002 for $160,000. Through the years, they had taken out multiple mortgages and filed for bankruptcy in 2009, owing more than $72,000 on credit cards and $15,000 for a Honda Civic lease, according to the bankruptcy filing at the time.
In 2017, the average American household had $15,654 in debt, according consumer finance website NerdWallet.
In December, lawyers for Ocwen Loan Services asked a judge to declare the Kologis in default on a mortgage from 2006.
On Monday, the day after the shooting, Instagram user steven_kologi posted on his private account that he was safe and pledged to be "as great of a parent as my parents were to me."
"Never once was I without a hot meal or a roof over my head," he wrote. "They made sure Christmas came every year although they struggled financially. I cannot even describe the type of people they were, so just believe me when I say how great they were. ...
"Good luck to everyone out there during this new year," he wrote, "And please, please, please remember to give the ones you love an extra kiss or 'I love you.' "