Judge won’t dismiss murder charges in Batie slaying, cop testifies about threat

Citing the “powerful” case prosecutors finished putting on Tuesday, a Superior Court judge refused to throw out murder charges against two men suspected of killing off-duty corrections officer Carl Batie in 2012.

Judge Andrew Smithson said a third-party guilt defense offered by suspected triggerman Maurice Skillman was “fanciful.”

Skillman is being tried a second time along with Hykeem “Tex” Tucker after their first trial earlier this year ended in mistrial when a jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Maurice Skillman

Maurice Skillman

Tucker is accused of acting as a lookout while Skillman fired 22 shots at the packed balcony of the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in the early-morning hours of Nov. 11, 2012.

Batie was struck in the head and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The judge cited surveillance tapes that showed two men getting in and out of a white conversion van parked in the lot of the banquet hall minutes before the murder.

The lead detective in the murder case, Scott Peterson, previously testified that after reviewing hours of surveillance footage from inside and outside the banquet hall, he identified the men in the parking lot as Skillman and Tucker.

Saying jurors could use the tapes to determine whether the two men are guilty, Smithson  denied defense attorneys’ request for a directed verdict after prosecutors rested their case.

Prosecutors finished presenting their case to the jury after calling a ballistics expert and the county medical examiner, Dr. Raafat Ahmad.

The ballistics expert reviewed shell casings recovered from the murder scene and testified  he believed at least 19 of the 22 shots were fired from the same handgun, possibly a TEC-9.

Earlier in the day, a Trenton Police officer  testified  about being threatened by an alleged Bloods gang member about an hour before shots rang out at the banquet hall.

The man, Shaquel Rock, told the cop that his badge wouldn’t “save him from a bullet,” said Jason Woodhead, now a sergeant at Trenton Police.

Rock is at the center of defense attorneys’ third-party guilt defense.

Woodhead also testified about his interactions with Maurice Skillman on the night of the murder.

Woodhead said he was partnered with Detective Sgt. Anthony Manzo at the banquet hall.

Clad in their police uniforms, they assisted bouncers with keeping order at the club, where as many as 200 people gathered for a party celebrating the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Woodhead and Manzo were stationed at the front of the banquet hall.

Woodhead said he was called over to intervene when one man in line grew unruly with bouncer Luis Feliciano.

Rock, an alleged Bloods gang member, came unhinged when Feliciano refused to let him in the club after he flashed a fake ID, Woodhead said.

Woodhead said he confiscated the identification and told the man to leave.

While Rock walked away from the banquet hall and into the street, he shouted at Woodhead, who was standing next to Feliciano, the brother of Alexis Feliciano, a convicted felon and bouncer who testified that he was posted up on a wooden stoop on the balcony at the time of the shooting.

Woodhead read from a police report that quoted Rock threatening to kill him.

“I don’t give a f– if you’re on duty or off,” Rock said. “That badge don’t mean sh—. That badge ain’t gonna save you from a bullet.”

After hearing the threats, Woodhead said he walked toward Rock. But the man ran off.

Woodhead didn’t chase him because he had a good lead on him.

Woodhead later looked through a mug book and identified Rock as the man who threatened him.

Rock was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats. But he was never charged in connection with Batie’s slaying.

But Rock has emerged as the key figure in the defense put on by Nicole Carlo, the defense attorney for Skillman.

Peterson, the lead detective, testified earlier that he eliminated Rock as a suspect in Batie’s murder. He said Rock did not fit the physical description of the shooter.

Hykeem Tucker

Hykeem Tucker

Woodhead said several skirmishes broke out in front the banquet hall after shots rang out at about 1:15 a.m.

He said he and Manzo got into ab unmarked police vehicle they had driven in to the banquet hall to sweep surrounding streets for suspects after they were given an initial description.

Manzo testified people described seeing two shooters, clad in black and white sweaters.

“Sometimes it’s right,” he said. “Sometimes it’s wrong.”

Woodhead said the two returned to the banquet hall when they learned someone was shot.

Manzo went inside the club while Woodhead waited outside, near the parking lot, keeping an eye on the frenzied crowd. The crowd bottle-necked at the front door as people poured out.

People screamed and shouted, Woodhead said.

He said his attention was drawn to a black man who walked back and forth in the street in front of the banquet hall.

Woodhead said he told the man to leave the area.

The black man was arrested by another officer for fighting. He was identified as Maurice Skillman.

Prior to being arrested, Skillman walked around a U-Haul truck parked in the street and remained there for a few seconds, Woodhead said.

Woodhead said after Skillman walked off, he went with his flashlight and searched around the U-Haul to make sure Skillman didn’t leave something behind.

Manzo, a 30-year veteran at Trenton Police, watched video surveillance of himself posted near the door, pointing himself out to the jury as well as Tucker, Maurice and Marquis Skillman.

He said he knew the Skillman twins because he watched them grow up while working the capital city streets for three decades.

He referred to Maurice as “Tall Skillman,” using similar language as Peterson. Peterson referred to Maurice Skillman as “Tall Guy.”

Manzo said he noticed Tucker as he walked into the club because of his distinctive jacket.

“It reminded me of when I used to play football,” said Manzo, a tattooed hulking 6 foot man with a shaved head and carefully manicured goatee.

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