A grim discovery of a bizarre altar and mummified human remains still dressed in a suit jacket and tie was made in New Jersey after investigators searched a Newark home of a man accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old.
Robert Frank Williams pleaded not guilty Monday to desecrating human remains and separate charges of child sexual abuse. Prosecutors called him "dangerous to society" during that court appearance.
Police initially went to Williams home to investigate allegations he abused a 12- to 13-year-old boy over several months, but when they searched the apartment they found an altar and mummified human remains that had apparently been used in religious ceremonies, according to prosecutors.
He reportedly told investigators he practices Palo, a religion which originated in Africa and is practiced in Latin American countries and which has reportedly been linked to grave robberies in Venezuela, according to the New York Times.
As for the mummified remains, investigators said they found a head, torso and one arm in Williams’ closet. The torso was dressed in a suit and tie.
The county's medical examiner has yet to identify the remains, but Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Michael Morris said Monday that they aren't related to the sex abuse charges. It’s not clear if they are related to any homicide.
The remains, found in a plastic bin, "raise the specter of a person out of step with society and dangerous to society," Morris told the judge in arguing for detention.
At the conclusion of the brief proceeding, state Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler ordered Williams held pending trial.
Williams' lawyer, public defender Susan Friedman, had argued that he could be released on home confinement and electronic monitoring. She said he had lived in the area for 18 years and has one disorderly person offense on his record that dates back more than 10 years.
New Jersey largely eliminated cash bail in 2017 and gave defendants the right to offer evidence showing why they should be released before trial.
The judge noted that Williams' alleged crimes carry a presumption of detention and that Williams would be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years if he is convicted of the most serious charge, aggravated sexual assault of a child under 13.
He is due back in court on Sept. 16.
It's not the first alleged Palo-related crime in the area's history. In 1999, a local priest was charged after he and followers allegedly stole the remains of an infant who had been dead for over eight decades, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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