Brown and Dawson each sentenced to 50 years in prison for murder of Tracy Crews

The best man convicted of killing his close friend, a Trenton drug dealer, in a botched home invasion in 2008 maintained his innocence before he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the slaying, his attorney confirmed.

Nigel Dawson and William Brown are accused of the 2008 murder of Tracy Crews. (Submitted photos)

Nigel Dawson and William Brown were convicted of the 2008 murder of Tracy Crews. (Submitted photos)

William “Paperboy” Brown, 30, and Nigel Joseph Dawson, 31, were each convicted in February of first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses following a six-week trial before Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson.

The duo faced a life sentence for the murder of Tracy Crews, a convicted drug dealer and Bloods gang member who was shot in the neck inside his Whittaker Avenue residence Sept 12, 2008 so the defendants could make off with $40,000 in drug proceeds. The judge handed down a 50-year sentence instead.

Brown’s attorney, Steven Lember, confirmed each of the defendants’ 50-year prison terms are subject to the No Early Release Act, which means they’ll have to serve 85 percent of their sentences, or more than 42 years, before they’re eligible for parole.

That would put Brown and Dawson in their early 70s before they could be released from state prison. Lember had filed a motion for new trial that was denied Thursday and has vowed to appeal the conviction.

He had expressed confidence his client would be vindicated on appeal based off Smithson’s decision at trial to allow prosecutors to present evidence of a dying declaration from Crews.

The evidence had been excluded by another judge who ruled it was unreliable. But Smithson reversed the ruling because he believed the dying declaration couched some of Crews’ wife’s lies.

Sheena Robinson-Crews, the victim’s widow, had admitted initially lying to police when she said her husband implicated both defendants while he lay dying outside a nearby liquor store. She later said her husband only mentioned Brown.

That was just one twist in a trial that was full of them. The biggest came when the defendants accused Robinson-Crews of conspiring with two other men in his murder as part of a third-party guilt defense.

The defense’s theory was based on comments Robinson-Crews’ made during a phone conversation hours after her husband was shot and testimony from a jailhouse informant who was locked up with Robinson-Crews in Pennsylvania.

Police overheard Robinson-Crews telling someone authorities believed was the killer, “You didn’t have to shoot him,” referring to Crews. Crews’ mother, Barbara Portis, said at trial she had believed her son’s wife was involved in his murder.

But defense attorneys were dealt a critical blow when Smithson ruled Trenton Police Officer Nathan Bolognini was not allowed to testify before the jury because he did not recall reporting to superiors overhearing Crews’ wife phone conversation, even though it appeared in a search warrant.

Both defense attorneys and the judge were incredulous Bolognini could not recall such a specific detail.

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