Trenton cop Luddie Austin has ‘lost faith in the judicial branch’ following son’s murder
Retired Trenton Police officer Luddie Austin says he no longer has confidence in the criminal justice system in Mercer County after he and his family have waited for more than two years for the man he says orchestrated his son’s murder to be held accountable.
“I lost faith in the judicial branch,” Austin told The Trentonian outside a courtroom Thursday. “I still have faith in the police. The courts, I don’t have no faith in because you have a judge who refuses to set a bail in the appropriate guidelines.”
Austin spoke with undisguised passion following the latest court appearance for Raheem Currie, one of two men charged with murder in the shooting death of his son, 18-year-old James Austin.
He criticized Judge Robert Billmeier for adjourning the matter because he was unsure whether Currie’s attorney, Jack Furlong, had been made aware of the scheduled appearance, which was pushed back because the judge had presided over Isiah Greene’s murder trial.
“There’s something going on with this judge,” said Austin, a well-respected cop who spent nearly two decades with Trenton Police and has appeared on the A&E television show, “Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force.”
“He’s allowing the defense attorney to dictate the scheduling process of this case and that’s not fair to the family. It’s not only disrespectful to the family; it’s disrespectful to the judicial system. Each day that goes by, we have to keep worrying. We’re trying to seek some closure and some justice.”
While he is charged with murder, Currie is free on $50,000 bail. He rejected a plea offer of 10 years for conspiracy to commit murder – a deal the victim’s family opposed.
“Ten years for a persons’ life is a slap in the face,” Austin said of the deal extended by Assistant Prosecutor Lewis Korngut, who is retiring in late November. Assistant Prosecutor James Scott will handle the case after that.
Judge Billmeier said Scott has upcoming murder trials before him that may hinder his ability to try Currie’s case sooner. Korngut responded that issue was “above his pay grade” and it was up to the “powers that be” at his office to decide on how the matter will be handled.
Korngut said he sympathizes with family members who are “extremely frustrated.”
Currie has insisted on a jury trial and faces a minimum of 30 years in prison for murder if he is convicted by a jury. His co-conspirator and admitted killer, Robert Bartley, has already accepted a 25-year plea offer for aggravated manslaughter and plans to testify against Currie at trial, which has not been scheduled. A voir dire conference is set for Nov. 18.
Bartley has not been sentenced after he admitted shooting James Austin on Feb. 26, 2013, in the doorway of his home.
“By the time this goes to trial, he’s going to have time served,” Luddie Austin said, adding he understands that Currie, who knew his son, made a phone call to Bartley, who acted as his enforcer. This followed an ongoing dispute between James Austin and Currie that escalated when James Austin broke Currie’s windshield.
“The longer this goes, the shorter the witnesses’ memory get,” Luddie Austin said. “The longer it gets delayed, the better the chances for Raheem Currie to get off.”
Bartley has apologized for shooting James Austin in the chest after the defendants planned to spray his East State Street home with bullets.
Currie did not appear in court for Thursday’s pretrial hearing, upsetting members of Austin family in attendance. Luddie Austin said it is wrong Currie has been allowed to roam the streets while being charged with murder.
“I spent my whole life fighting crime, trying to do the right thing, and you have someone who can circumvent the system and enjoy the same freedom as noble citizens can,” he said. “It’s like the TV show, ‘How to Get Away with Murder.’ Commit it in Mercer County.”