Robert Bartley pleads guilty to killing son of Trenton cop

Robert Bartley apologized and pleaded guilty Thursday to shooting and killing James Austin, son of a veteran Trenton cop, in the doorway of the victim’s home on Feb. 26, 2013.

In return for his plea to aggravated manslaughter, Bartley, 23, will be sentenced to 25 years in prison, with no chance for parole until he’s done 21 years and three months.

“I want to apologize to the family,” Bartley said as he turned to the audience in the courtroom of Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier.

“I know I’ve caused a lot of pain to his family and friends and those who cared about him,” Bartley said as he nodded to his own relatives seated on the opposite side of the courtroom from Austin family members.

James Austin’s sister Precious screamed out and ran from the courtroom as Bartley started addressing the families. Outside on the courthouse steps she said Bartley should have gotten “life!”

“My brother is not here because of him. When Bartley gets out he’ll be 48. He’ll have a chance to have a wife and children. My brother has two little girls, twins, who were the love of his life. They are going to turn two on Sunday. He didn’t get to be there for their birthday.”

Slain Austin’s mother, Yvonne Maxwell, then emerged from the courthouse with tears in her eyes, voicing loud complaints about “plea bargaining! It’s not right. He should be getting life, or maybe 50 or 60 years.”

Also present for the hearing was the retired Trenton police sergeant Luddie Austin, who stood up in court to protest in June when prosecutors offered Bartley’s alleged accomplice, Raheem Currie, a 10-year plea deal.

Luddie Austin also confronted Currie as the accused accomplice stepped outside the courthouse that day, telling the young man to stay off the streets. Currie’s mother stepped between them and told the cop “Get out of my face.”

Currie’s lawyer, John Furlong, also was lambasted by the Austins that day. He noted that his client hadn’t shot Austin and thought the plan was to spray the house with bullets when he drove Bartley to the 900 block of East State Street that day.

In answer to questions from Assistant Mercer Public Defender Caroline Turner, Bartley admitted walking up to the front door of the home that afternoon and shooting James Austin in the chest when confronted at the entry.

It also came out at the hearing that Bartley has agreed to testify against Currie if the accomplice wants to go to trial with the defense that he didn’t know Bartley was going to personally confront Austin that day.

A scholar-athlete who was ready to start college at Bloomsburg University, James Austin was the son of a veteran city street cop who served two Army tours in the Middle East. He’s also counted as a hero for facing down Trenton gang members.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Luddie Austin was a Trenton Police Detective and that the shooting took place at his family’s home. Those statements have now been corrected.

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