Trenton men convicted of killing Carl Batie in 2012
Elaine Batie clutched her son’s former co-worker outside a Mercer County criminal courtroom.
They hugged for what seemed like minutes, swaying back and forth in unison.
“It’s over,” the woman told Elaine.
Carl Batie, a former Mercer County corrections officer with an infectious personality and generous spirit, was killed in a hail of bullets Nov. 11, 2012 at the Baldassari Regency banquet hall, in what authorities believed was a chilling and callous gang-related shooting that claimed an unintended victim.
Prosecutors stressed to jurors over two trials they may never know “the why” of the killing, but they could know “the who.”
It took 1,307 days since Batie’s death, two trials and two different juries. But two city men were finally found guilty Thursday of killing the off-duty Mercer County corrections officer in 2012, nearly four months after their first trial ended in a hung jury.
Maurice Skillman and Hykeem Tucker were convicted of counts of murder, aggravated assault and weapons offenses around 1:35 p.m. Thursday in Mercer County criminal court.
The verdict broke an inglorious streak for prosecutors of a spate of hung juries and acquittals in murder trials.
Skillman was convicted of opening fire on the packed balcony 22 times, possibly with a TEC-9 that was never recovered, while Tucker was held responsible for being an accomplice by acting as a lookout.
Tucker, known on the streets as “Tex,” arrived with Skillman at the banquet hall.
Ten sheriff officers were brought into the courtroom for the verdict to ensure there were no outbursts.
Batie’s relatives embraced each other after the foreman read the verdict.
Skillman kept his eyes downcast, while Tucker stared straight forward in the court.
Skillman and Tucker face life imprisonment when they are sentenced. A tentative date was set for Aug. 1
Defense attorneys said they plan to ask Judge Andrew Smithson for a new trial and will appeal the convictions.
The guilty verdict paves the way for the start of a civil trial, which was put on hold until the criminal case was resolved.
The Batie family has sued the city, banquet hall and the two men convicted of his murder for Carl’s wrongful death.
“The Batie family continues to grieve the loss of Carl,” said attorney Robin Lord, who represents the family in the civil case. “If, in fact, the jury’s verdict reflects what actually occurred, the family is grateful to put this chapter behind them and move on. Regardless of the verdict, it’s not going to bring Carl back.”
Christopher Campbell, Tucker’s attorney, said he was “shocked” the jury returned so quickly with a verdict following grueling testimony over three weeks, including from Scott Peterson, the Trenton Police detective who testified he identified Tucker because of a distinctive varsity jacket he wore the night of the murder.
Defense attorneys said Peterson’s identification of their clients as the killers based on grainy surveillance tapes was suspect and an open question.
But the jury felt so secure after deliberating for a maximum of 52 minutes, which didn’t take into account the time jurors spent walking back and forth to court from picking up their meals after deciding to work through the lunch break, that it did not ask questions or review surveillance footage a second time.
They handed the judge a single note that relayed they arrived at a decision. Attorneys were informed of the jury’s note around 1:16 p.m., while on the lunch break.
For Elaine Batie, the family bedrock whose bright blouses, crisp pants and immaculately applied lipstick belied her grief during the two trials, it was a triumphant moment steeped in tragedy.
Her steely demeanor was tested through the trials, after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict in February following many hours of rancorous discussions.
This time, a jury of seven men and five women delivered their verdict, less than an hour after they were handed the case, inside a packed courtroom where about 40 people gathered.
It was a stunning turn of events that took defense attorneys by surprise following the hotly contested first trial, which centered on surveillance tapes that showed two men lurking in the parking lot of the banquet hall and later rummaging through a white conversion van minutes before the murder.
The first trial ended in mistrial, when a lone holdout was unconvinced the two men on the tapes were Skillman and Tucker.
Assistant Prosecutor James Scott, who tried the case with colleague Heather Hadley, said he was gratified to see the odyssey come to an end.
“The only thing I care about is that the family gets some closure,” Scott said. “I don’t get validation from jury verdicts. The people who matter are the people who are family of Carl Batie. He was a fantastic person. I never had the pleasure of meeting him. But from everything I’ve heard about … has been nothing but great.”
The hung jury in the first trial required both sides to do the case over, forcing Batie’s mother to reopen a wound that never healed.
The death of Carl Batie, a respected corrections officer whose brother followed in his footsteps, tugged at the heartstrings of the community.
Hundreds of corrections officers and supporters attended his funeral at Shiloh Baptist Church.
Batie, affectionately known as Kion, was remembered as a kindred spirit who shelled out his time, money and effort for family and friends.
Four years after graduating from Trenton Central High School in 2003, Batie landed a job as a corrections officer. When he wasn’t working, he traveled, partied, rode ATVs and spent time with his brothers.
He and his brother, Karshawn, were inseparable. Karshawn testified at both trials that they shopped, ate and even went to the bathroom together.
Carl paid the $50 cover charge for he and his brother to get into the banquet hall that night.
Karshawn was about 20 feet away, standing near the door of the deck as his brother made the final rounds at the banquet hall.
Carl noticed a familiar face in the crowd.
It was bouncer Alexis Feliciano, a convicted felon who he came into contact with at the Mercer County Correction Center in Hopewell.
Feliciano spent time there as an inmate but was turning his life around and landed a job working security at the banquet hall.
The men talked about Carl’s dog-breeding business before gunfire sent party-goers running for cover.
Chaos broke out on the streets, fights and people shouting, as an ambulance scrambled to get to Batie dying on the deck, his eye watering and covered in blood.
Maurice Skillman was caught up in the crowd and arrested for fighting that night. No gun was found on him, and defense attorneys suggested he wore different clothing than the left-handed shooter.
Defense attorneys pointed to two other individuals, alleged Bloods gang member Shaquel Rock and Edward Acosta, a city man whose DNA turned up on a hat on one of the surrounding streets, as the possible killers.
Rock threatened to shoot up the banquet hall and kill a Trenton cop who worked security that night. He was charged with making terroristic threats.
Rock was questioned, but never charged in connection with Batie’s slaying, despite failing a lie-detector test and providing law enforcement with a phony alibi.
Acosta was an easy target for defense attorneys. He is a notorious figure in Trenton who was convicted, and is serving six years, for shooting a city man in the face in 2013.
Nicole Carlo, Skillman’s attorney, said her client was an innocent man who was wrongfully accused by a police detective looking to close one of Trenton’s numerous murder cases.
Campbell, Tucker’s attorney, told jurors in closings they could not rely on the grainy surveillance tapes to convict the men.
In the end, jurors debated the case less than everyone connected to it in Mercer County.
Scott credited the work of Peterson, the lead detective in the case, with making jurors’ decision easier.
They shook hands and hugged after people filtered out of the courtroom.
“Every jury’s different,” Scott said. “We believed we had a very powerful case. The surveillance video was very clear. … I told the family I was going to stay with this case. I was there at the Baldassari the night Carl was killed. Scott Peterson did a fantastic job in this investigation. I was proud after the first trial and I’m proud after this trial.”