Sussex County men charged with hiding body in doghouse plead not guilty

·3 min read

Two Sussex County men denied Wednesday they worked in concert to hide the body of a man who is believed to have died from a drug overdose before they fled to another state last summer.

Brian Cheda-Hackembruch, 26, of Andover Township, and Matthew Thomas, 27, of Newton, pleaded not guilty during virtual court hearings to an indictment charging them with disturbing or desecrating human remains and credit card theft.

But that may not be the only charges the couple could face as the investigation continues.

Sahil Kabse, an assistant prosecutor in Sussex, said Wednesday that investigators continue to examine multiple electronic devices the men had when they were arrested or devices seized after a search of their residence in Andover Township. Investigators say the men had between them a dozen cellphones and several laptops, with at least one terabyte of data. A terabyte is, for perspective, equal to 1,000 gigabytes or 1,000 hours of video, 310,000 photos or 85,899,345 pages of Word documents.

Prosecutors are withholding plea offers pending what comes of the information compiled from the electronic devices. Kabse said his office may consider additional charges as it pertains to the man's death and whether there is viability for a strict liability charge.

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Strict liability for drug-induced deaths is a criminal statute in New Jersey that holds accountable the provider of a drug should the victim die because of the injection, inhalation or ingestion of a controlled dangerous substance.

Potent batches of fentanyl can be 100 times more powerful than morphine. When mixed with heroin, the cocktail can prove fatal.

Cheda-Hackembruch and Thomas were at the victim's Hopatcong home on July 3 when the man suffered a medical episode. Defense attorneys pointed to an autopsy that preliminarily showed no trauma to the man's body and a toxicology report that found fentanyl in the decedent's system.

The men allegedly ransacked the victim's bedroom and stole credit cards before they loaded his body in the victim's car and had a towing company offload the vehicle on West Lakeview Road in Andover Township, police said.

Cheda-Hackembruch and Thomas later removed the body and placed it in a wooden doghouse under the deck of a home where they were living, prosecutors said. Another resident of the home called police on July 3 after they found the remains covered in a blanket and black garbage bags.

The men fled prior to officers' arrival but called 911 shortly after to report the body was under the deck, police said. They were later apprehended in Delaware.

Sussex County judges in September ordered the men remain in the Morris County jail pending the outcome of their cases, noting the severity of the alleged crimes and the men's inability to live arrest-free lives. At the time of his arrest, Cheda-Hackembruch was on federal release after serving time for running a large-scale meth facility in West Orange in 2019. Thomas was on probation for a drug possession charge at the time of his arrest.

The men are expected back in court in late January.

Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.

This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: Andover NJ death: Men charged with hiding dead body plead not guilty

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