Girlfriends take stand at trial for Trenton man accused in cop son’s death
As she sat in the back seat of a Honda Civic parked outside the home of a retired city cop’s son in February 2013, Endia Kaver admitted to police that she was nervous.
Her boyfriend, Raheem Currie, and James Austin, had been involved in a fight earlier that day. And now they had returned with Currie’s cousin, Robert Bartley, to settle the score.
Kaver, Currie’s longtime girlfriend, remembered thinking to herself, as Bartley stepped out of Honda Civic and informed the group he planned to spray up Austin’s East State Street home, “Lord, don’t let this get out of hand.”
Testifying Wednesday at Currie’s murder conspiracy trial, Kaver told jurors she had no idea what Bartley meant about spraying up the home of Austin, the slain 18-year-old son of retired Trenton cop Luddie Austin.
“I don’t know what he meant necessarily at the time,” said Kaver, a short, African American woman with long, braided hair that had streaks of red. “I didn’t know [Bartley] had a gun.”
She found out after hearing a single gunshot that struck Austin in his chest, and ended his life Feb. 26, 2013, following an earlier fist fight between the men that ended with Currie and Austin breaking each other’s car windows.
After the initial dispute, Currie, Kaver and another man, Brandon Hill, picked up Bartley and returned to Austin’s home.
Bartley, who the defense has said acted as a lone wolf to protect his younger cousin Currie, got out of the car and planned to settle the beef with deadly force, prosecutors said.
Assistant Prosecutor James Scott was practically beside himself as Kaver feigned ignorance about Bartley’s intentions.
“So you knew that when he said he was going to spray up the house, he wasn’t going to go spray it with water?” Scott asked cynically.
His question drew muffled approval from Austin’s family members who watched from the back of the courtroom.
Kaver did not cave, offering a short, terse “no” in response.
“You knew it was serious?” Scott said. “Much more serious than a street fight. Deadly serious right.”
The prosecutor then had Kaver read a passage from her statement to police that described her mind state at the time.
Kaver took the stand on the same day as Laporsha Guy, the former girlfriend and mother of Austin’s twin daughters.
The women, both standing up for their men, were pitted against each other, their accounts of what happened mirroring each other at certain times and other times conflicting.
Guy, 21, wearing a sleeveless black dress and white high-top Converse Chuck Taylors, became emotional throughout her testimony, especially when prosecutors played recordings of her frantic calls to 911 dispatchers, moments after her boyfriend was shot.
Burying her face in her hands, and daubing her eyes with tissues, Guy discussed meeting Austin while they attended Trenton Central High School. They knew each other for four years when she became pregnant with twin daughters, Jakayla and Janyla.
She told jurors that on the day Austin was killed, he visited her at her East State Street home.
He walked in with a cheesesteak and soda, when she heard Currie yelling for Austin to come outside and fight.
Austin didn’t back down, even as his girlfriend urged him to stay inside, Guy said.
“No, Porsha, I was waiting on him,” she said.
The men grabbed each other and traded blows, the fight lasting seconds.
Guy saw a man and a light-skinned woman standing outside recording the fight on a cell phone.
After the fight, Currie threw part of a purple anti-theft club through the window of Austin’s tan Infinity. Austin jumped on Currie’s car windshield, causing extensive damage.
Then Austin went back inside the home and discussed the fight with Guy.
“Five minutes later a knock came on the door,” Guy said.
It was Bartley, who told Austin he owed his “people’s some money for breaking the window.”
Austin tried to shut the door, but Robert put his foot in the doorway, brandished a handgun and shot Austin while Guy looked on helplessly, clutching one of her twin daughters.
She ran to the bathroom and called for help.
Trying to comfort her crying babies, she huddled over Austin to render aid while paramedics raced to the home.
Her testimony was striking when compared with Kaver, a 24-year-old Trenton native and college dropout who earns a living as a cook.
Kaver acknowledged she and Currie are in love and have been together for seven years.
They met in middle school, she said, lived together for two years and still see each other three times a week.
She said she was with Currie and another man, Brandon Hill, the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2013.
They visited a CVS store on Greenwood and North Olden avenues, where she purchased candy and made copies of her Social Security card.
Shortly after, the group left and ran into Austin outside his home.
“James was saying what’s up,” she said. “Raheem was saying what’s up back to him.”
After exchanging words, Raheem turned around his aunt’s silver Honda Civic, and the men argued on the sidewalk before coming to blows.
Hill recorded the fight on his cell phone, Kaver said, until she told him to break up the fight. He handed her the phone and intervened. Kaver said they all got back into the car, Currie climbing with her into the back seat, and drove off.
On the way home, Currie asked for Kaver’s cell phone to call home. Kaver said.
She said heard her boyfriend speaking to Bartley, and asked him if his mother was there.
But she did not recall Currie telling Bartley to get his gun from where it was hidden inside the home they shared on the 600 block of Greenwood Avenue.
That is a crucial point of contention in the case, as prosecutors allege that Currie conspired with Bartley in that phone call to retaliate against Austin, leading to his death.
The defense said Currie made no such plans, and that Bartley, who is expected to take the stand Thursday, is testifying against his cousin because he is benefitting from a plea deal with prosecutors. His deal calls for him to serve 25 years in prison for aggravated manslaughter.
Retired Trenton Police detective Gary Britton testified earlier in the day that Bartley confessed during an interrogation to killing Austin.
“He was not sure what we were able to find out about what happened,” said Britton, who spent 24 years with Trenton Police. “He seemed to be curious about a fight that took place a day before with his cousin. By the end of that, he was completely broken down, sobbing, apologetic, angry that he made the decision that he made.”