An appeals court has ordered a third trial for a New Jersey man convicted earlier in the strangulation deaths of his parents.
The court ruled Tuesday that the judge at Michael Maltese’s second trial mistakenly instructed jurors on the law regarding self-defense.
Maltese alleged that his father attacked him and that he was defending himself when he strangled the older man in their home in 2008. He was also convicted of strangling his mother during the violent argument.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Maltese and his girlfriend drove the bodies to a park in South Brunswick and buried them in a shallow grave.
The two-judge appeals panel agreed with Maltese that the judge erred when he told jurors that they could reject Maltese’s self-defense argument if prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he could have safely retreated from the altercation.
The judge had agreed with attorneys not to include that instruction to the jury, the appeals judges wrote.
“Had the jury heard the proper instruction — without any theory of defendant’s purported duty to retreat — it would have correctly considered his defense of self-defense,” they wrote. “But as the charge was given, that was not the case.”
Maltese’s conviction at his first trial was thrown out when the state Supreme Court ruled that his confession was inadmissible.
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office.