Prosecutor: Former Newark gang member, suspected killer ‘was out for revenge’ in Trenton
Assistant Prosecutor Brian McCauley promised at the outset of a former Newark gang member’s murder trial he would put the puzzle pieces together for jurors. He literally did, in his slideshow.
The red puzzle pieces, containing bits of evidence or crucial statements from witnesses who testified in the trial, pointed to Shaheed Brown’s guilt in the slaying of Enrico Smalley Jr. outside of crime-ridden La Guira Bar in the early-morning hours of July 12, 2014, McCauley said.
Defense attorney Edward Heyburn countered there was “no proof” Brown killed Smalley.
When the puzzle pieces were pulled away, they revealed the police booking photo of Brown, his head shaven, staring back at the camera.
The prosecutor said there was one reason Brown was at the bar when Smalley was murdered, and it wasn’t to drink.
“He was there for revenge,” said McCauley, sweeping aside the defense’s theory another man, Alvie “King” Vereen, was the real killer.
McCauley was alluding to a dustup between Brown and Smalley’s people that occurred a week before the murder. No witness could say definitively Smalley was present for this altercation, when Brown was chased from the bar, according to testimony from bar bouncer Kevin Cole.
Nevertheless, if the motive is in doubt, McCauley said, Brown’s actions following the murder – he skipped Trenton for Newark and changed his appearance – suggest a “consciousness of guilt.”
“There’s no reason to shave your head and leave town if you didn’t do anything,” McCauley said.
The defense would have jurors believe the prosecutor did not prove Brown skipped town.
While casting aspersions on lead detective Joseph Itri for not conducting a thorough investigation, Heyburn said evidence seized from Brown’s South Broad Street apartment suggested his client was still living in Trenton and planned on returning.
Investigators testified they seized bank and casino player cards from Brown’s apartment within days of the murder, suggesting the residence appeared abandoned.
But in Heyburn’s cross examination, he elicited testimony that two people were inside the apartment when investigators arrived.
“If you’re running from the police, if you don’t plan on coming back, you’re gonna need that,” Heyburn said of the bank card.
McCauley said criminals know authorities use bank cards to track movement, which would have made Brown, who was eventually arrested in Newark, easier to find.
The prosecutor then zeroed in on Brown’s actions outside of La Guira Bar a week after he was chased away by an angry mob of men. He asked jurors to consider why Brown had traveled about three miles from his apartment on the 1000 block of South Broad Street to La Guira, which sits on the corner of North Clinton Avenue and Poplar Street, when two bars were closer to his residence.
Brown had arrived at the bar with his posse, which included Vereen and Rasean Sutphin, who followed him around like “puppy dogs.”
Brown did not go inside the bar, hanging out in the vestibule where packaged liquor was sold. The prosecutor said Brown had been at the bar before and knew he would be patted down by Cole if he tried to go inside.
Brown was captured by surveillance cameras moments before the shooting appearing with a black glove on his right hand, which a witness suggested was done so as not to leave fingerprints.
“He went up with his squad to settle a score,” McCauley said. “This time he had his friends with him and this time he had a gun on him.”
Attorneys focused on evidence at the crime scene, each arguing it implicated and exonerated Brown. It depends how jurors interpret the scene, which Heyburn attempted to reconstruct for jurors.
He said the six shots that hit Smalley came from an angle his client, who was presumably next to Smalley when he was gunned down, was not standing.
Heyburn said the location of shell casings suggested Vereen, who walked off camera for four seconds then darted back on camera and turned sharply to the right, was the shooter.
“It’s enough time for someone to go, ‘bam, bam, bam, bam, bam,’” Heyburn said. “Physical evidence cannot lie.”
Heyburn suggested Vereen was seen on tape tucking something into his waistband as he fled.
McCauley called his counterpart’s argument “specious and wrong,” saying an anonymous 911 tape of former Trenton state prison corrections officer Kenneth Crawford was telling.
He described seeing a black man with dreadlocks and a white shirt pumping rounds in Smalley while he stood over him. The man ran from the scene with another man, presumably Vereen, McCauley said.
At trial, Crawford contradicted what he said in the 911 tape, admitting he did not see the shooter because his view was obstructed by a SUV parked in front of the bar. He admitted that after reading newspaper coverage he had mistaken Smalley for the shooter.
McCauley said the 911 tape, which was allowed into evidence as an “excited utterance,” was more reliable than what Crawford said in “two days of testimony” because the former prison guard had the “cloak of anonymity, the cloak of invisibility.”
The prosecutor said no one wanted to cooperate with investigators to help solve Smalley’s murder, not even members of his own family. Still, he said, Itri handled the investigation with aplomb and fingered the right suspect.
“Who is the shooter in this scenario?” McCauley asked. “It’s the defendant.”