Trial for Smalley murder assigned to new judge, may see court sooner

Undeterred by a possible life sentence if he is found guilty by a jury, Shaheed Brown, who has repeatedly clamored for a speedy trial in the slaying of another man outside a city bar last year, is getting his wish.

Prosecutors say this surveillance photo shows Shaheed Brown (left) and Enrico Smalley Jr. minutes before Smalley was gunned down outside of La Guira Bar on July 12, 2014.

Prosecutors say this surveillance photo shows Shaheed Brown (left) and Enrico Smalley Jr. minutes before Smalley was gunned down outside of La Guira Bar on July 12, 2014.

He could be tried for the murder of Enrico Smalley Jr. as early as September, The Trentonian has learned.

At a hearing last month, Brown, who has maintained his innocence, rejected prosecutors’ final plea offer of 45 years if he admitted fatally shooting Smalley outside of La Guira Bar in July 2014.

No official date has been set for the trial, which is expected to last up to four weeks.

But earlier this month, Brown’s case was transferred from Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier to Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson, an idea that was first floated at Brown’s hearing last month.

Attorneys involved in the case were unable to speak about the move because of a gag order, but it is apparent it was done to accommodate Brown’s request for a trial date sooner rather than later.

With the retired Smithson taking over the case, that eases the burden on Billmeier, whose heavy docket usually includes presiding over some of the county’s most violent cases.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

In State v. Brown, Smithson inherits a highly contentious case that has generated a fair amount of local publicity. It has been marked by constant in- and out-of-court jousting between the attorneys and startling revelations, such as prosecutors’ contention that the murder weapon used to kill Smalley was linked with a separate homicide in Essex County and two shootings in Trenton.

Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley did not outright accuse Brown of being involved in the Essex County murder but pointed out it occurred around the same time Brown was believed to be in the county.

That was the latest bombshell, but it wasn’t the first, which belongs to Brown’s attorney, Edward Heyburn.

Heyburn released a video to The Trentonian he said was proof someone other than Brown killed Smalley.

The video showed a man known only as “King,” appearing to reach for something tucked into the left side of his waistband moments before Smalley was shot.

Heyburn said police did not attempt to interview the man in order to rule him out as a suspect.

The release of the video rankled McCauley, who contended it chilled witness cooperation. A judge responded by issuing a gag order on the attorneys and sealing the court file from the public purview.

Brown has been held in lieu of $1 million bail since he was arrested for Smalley’s murder in Newark in August 2014. A pretrial conference is set for July 30.

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