New York

‘Unbelievable Violence': Third Suspect in Brutal Murder of 26-Year-Old Hofstra Graduate Pleads Guilty

Joseph Comunale, a 26-year-old Hofstra grad from Stamford, Connecticut, was stabbed to death in a luxury Manhattan apartment, then dumped in a shallow grave in New Jersey; his body was burned

What to Know

  • Joseph Comunale, of Stamford, Connecticut, was stabbed to death in November 2016 at an Upper East Side apartment after a night of partying
  • The 26-year-old's body was recovered Nov. 16 in NJ; a criminal complaint says he was stabbed more than a dozen times and burned
  • Three men, including the adopted son of jeweler-to-the-stars Jeffrey Rackover, were convicted of various charges in the Hofstra grad's death

A third man accused in the death of a Hofstra graduate who was brutally murdered after a night of partying in Manhattan more than two years ago pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution Friday, wrapping up a disturbing and mystifying case that stretched across three states. 

Max Gemma, a 31-year-old from Oceanport, New Jersey, was the only one of the three suspects not to be charged with murder or manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old Joseph "Joey" Comunale, whose body was found in a shallow grave in Gemma's hometown on Nov. 16, 2016. 

Prosecutors have said Comunale, of Stamford, Connecticut, was stabbed more than a dozen times in a luxury Upper East Side apartment owned by James Rackover, the adopted son of jeweler-to-the-stars Jeffery Rackover, after a night of partying with alcohol and cocaine. 

Rackover was found guilty of second-degree murder and other crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison in December. The other killer, Lawrence Dilione, of Jersey City, got a 23-year sentence earlier this month after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in January. Gemma will be sentenced in April.

In a statement Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that while the convictions would never undo the suffering of Comunale or Comunale's family, he hoped they would help the family continue to heal from the trauma and loss.

"Two years ago, Joseph Comunale, a bright and beloved 26-year-old man, was taken from his family and friends in a crime of unbelievable violence and cruelty," Vance said. "Now, each of the men responsible for stabbing Joey to death, dumping his body in a shallow grave, desecrating his remains, and trying in vain to destroy the evidence, have been convicted for their crimes."

Prosecutors have said it was Rackover and Dilione who shoved Comunale's body out one of Rackover's apartment windows and stuffed it in a duffel bag in the trunk of a black Mercedes that Rackover was seen driving. Records showed the Mercedes leaving Manhattan and traveling through the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey, where the body would eventually be found torched in a makeshift grave. A gas canister sat nearby.

Bloody clothing, sheets and towels were found in Rackover's apartment during the course of an investigation, prosecutors have said. The black Mercedes Rackover had been seen driving was later returned to Manhattan, left in a parking garage on East 58th Street, and a cadaver dog made a positive alert for a body or bodily fluids in the trunk area, the complaint said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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