Two Trenton men will face trial for shooting death of corrections officer
Two city men charged in the fatal shooting death of an off-duty Mercer County corrections officer are being tried in the fall, a judge said Friday.
Maurice Skillman and Hykeem Tucker, both 28, are expected to be tried together starting Nov. 30, for the slaying of Carl Batie, a 27-year-old corrections officer who was gunned down Nov. 11, 2011 while he was attending a party celebrating the reelection of President Barack Obama at the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in Chambersburg.
Batie, who was not the intended target of the gang-related shooting, was struck in the head and killed instantly, prosecutors said.
Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier ruled Tucker will not be tried separately from his codefendant. Tucker’s attorney tried fruitlessly to have the men severed, arguing Skillman would exonerate his client if he were allowed to take the stand and testify in a separate trial.
Skillman is not allowed to take the stand as a witness in a joint trial because of evidence rules. However, Skillman’s twin brother, Marquis, who was one of three men charged in a separate murder, could be called to the witness stand.
Earlier this year, Marquis Skillman pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery to resolve murder charges in the June 2013 shooting death of Rayshawn Ransom. Prosecutors believe another man, Alton Jones, fired the fatal shot.
Jason Charles Matey, one of Maurice Skillman’s attorneys, told the court his client would not exculpate Tucker for his alleged role in Batie’s murder.
Skillman, in a teal prison jumpsuit with his hands shackled to his waist, told the court that he wanted to be tried alongside Tucker.
Tucker, who sat next to his attorney at a table behind Skillman, did not speak during the hearing.
The defendants have asked the judge to keep surveillance tapes taken from the banquet hall out of evidence. Billmeier said he would issue a written opinion on the request at a later date.
Prosecutors have said Skillman, who has been offered a 40-year sentence for murder, was the one who opened fire on the balcony of bystanders. Authorities collected 22 spent shell casings at the scene.
Assistant Prosecutor James Scott said surveillance footage, which captures the defendants at the banquet hall, also depicts a “flash of light” around the time gunshots rang out.
Tucker has been offered separate deals for his alleged role in the murder, including a deal that would reduce his prison sentence to 25-year prison term for aggravated manslaughter if he cooperated with prosecutors.
Under terms of a less favorable plea deal, Tucker would be required to serve 30 years for murder if he does not to cooperate.
The defendants have until Aug. 12 to decide whether to accept prosecutors’ offers.
After that, the judge said, they would have to plead to open counts of murder, increasing their exposure time to a maximum of 75 years.