Shocking allegations, twists not in short supply for Trenton man’s upcoming murder trial
Shaheed Brown’s murder trial is expected to be full of head-spinning moments as his attorney plans to put on a third-party guilt defense implicating a dead man in Enrico Smalley Jr.’s murder.
Opening statements in the trial, which could last as many as six weeks, were supposed to be delivered last week. But they were hamstrung by housekeeping matters.
Brown is accused of killing Smalley outside of crimed-ridden La Guira Bar in July 2014.
Openings should begin this week after they were delayed by jury selection and hearings to determine evidence allowed at trial.
Court officials were also consumed with prescreening prospective jurors to weed out ones whose personal schedules would not accommodate such a significant time commitment.
Attorneys need a panel of at least 14 people – including a minimum of two alternates – before forging ahead.
Brown, who has a significant, and violent, criminal history, has been locked up in the county jail for more than a year while awaiting the start of his murder trial. His case could have taken longer to get to this stage if his attorney, Edward Heyburn, had not insisted on it being transferred to another judge so it could be tried sooner.
The case was assigned to Judge Robert Billmeier but was transferred to retired Judge Andrew Smithson.
A number of last-minute hearings last week put a wrinkle in the schedule as Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley made a last-ditch effort to convince Smithson to allow evidence the prosecutor he had previously conceded he would not try to put before the jury.
McCauley wanted to introduce evidence linking an unrecovered weapon used in Smalley’s murder to a separate murder in Essex County and two shootings in Trenton.
The weapon was linked to those crimes through a database of images of spent bullets and shell casings, known to New Jersey State Police as the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, or NIBIN.
The prosecutor did not accuse Brown of committing the murder in Essex County but it could have been a suggestive – and to Brown’s attorney, misleading – piece of evidence because of Brown’s ties to Newark. He grew up in the streets of Newark and was arrested there when he was charged with Smalley’s murder.
Smithson did not allow the evidence since it could be unreliable because police could not make a definitive ballistics comparison without the murder weapon.
Heyburn, Brown’s defense attorney, has been just as busy. He has pretty much unveiled his defense strategy ahead of the trial. It involves allegations that another man, Rodney Sutphin, ordered Smalley killed as payback for a separate homicide Smalley allegedly committed.
Sutphin was at the bar the night of the murder but was never charged for having any hand in Smalley’s murder. Sutphin was himself murdered three months after Smalley was gunned down. No arrests have been made in Sutphin’s slaying.
In an interview with The Trentonian this year, Sutphin’s grandmother, Deborah Ellis, slammed Heyburn for accusing her grandson of having anything to do with Smalley’s death.
“A dead man can’t speak,” she said in August. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let [Edward Heyburn] or the prosecutor rip my grandkids who I love very much with my heart. It’s bull–t. And they can stop it right now.”
Heyburn’s tactics in Brown’s case have attracted headlines and resulted in a gag order stymieing the flow of information in the pretrial phases.
The gag order was put in place after Heyburn released surveillance footage from outside La Guira Bar showing a man, known only as “King,” reaching for something tucked in his waistband seconds before Smalley was shot.
Heyburn contends King is the real killer and was accompanied to the bar by Rodney Sutphin and Rasean Sutphin.
Rasean Sutphin has been in trouble of his own. He was charged with attempted murder for in connection with a shooting in October 2014 that injured two people.