Trenton detective: City man ‘broke down,’ confessed during murder interrogation
The city man who shot a Trenton cop’s son to death in 2013 tried to get a feel for what police knew about his involvement in the crime when he was first interrogated, a retired police detective testified Wednesday.
But by the end of the interrogation, retired Trenton Police detective Gary Britton said, the suspect, Robert Bartley, had confessed to killing James Austin, the son of well-known retired Trenton police officer Luddie Austin.
“He was not sure what we were able to find out about what happened,” at the Feb. 26, 2013 murder, said Britton, who spent 24 years with Trenton Police until his retirement. “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.”
Britton also testified about a handgun that investigators recovered, stashed inside a city residence belonging to Bartley’s friend. Britton spent most of the morning being questioned in the murder conspiracy trial of Raheem Currie, Bartley’s cousin.
Currie was initially charged with weapons possession, but charges were later upgraded.
Currie is accused of conspiring with Bartley to kill Austin, following an argument at James Austin’s East State Street home that escalated when the men smashed each other’s car windshields.
Prosecutors contend that Currie and two others drove to pick up Bartley after the dispute. Then they returned to Austin’s home, and Bartley shot Austin once in the chest after the cop’s son refused to pay for the damaged windshield.
Bartley has already pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and is expected to testify against his cousin at the trial, which began with opening statements
Britton said the .32-caliber handgun Bartley used to shoot the city cop’s son was inside a crawlspace of a home on the 100 block of Hanford Place.
After the fatal shooting, Bartley asked a friend to hide the gun, which had a mahogany grip. A picture of the handgun was shown to jurors on an overhead projector, while Britton answered questions from Assistant Prosecutor James Scott.
Britton detailed for jurors on the stand the steps he took during his investigation of the murder.
Britton took statements from people inside the vehicle as well as the city man, Ryan Small, whose home is where the gun was found. Police got Small’s permission to search the residence, Britton said.
Britton interviewed Currie’s girlfriend, and took two statements from the driver, Brandon Hill, who was never charged for any role in Austin’s murder.
Hill drove Currie and Bartley away from the murder scene.
Britton said Hill was a witness to the crime.
The retired detective acknowledged under cross examination from defense attorney Jack Furlong that Hill “lied” to him during an initial interview.
Hill claimed that he was present for the dispute between Currie and Austin but walked away. He eventually “came clean” about driving the car carrying Bartley and Currie.
Furlong asked why Hill was not charged for lying to police.
Britton responded, ”If that were the case, everyone in the city who has been interviewed about a homicide would be arrested.”
“He actually obstructed justice,” Furlong said.
“He delayed [it],” Britton said.
Britton also testified about conducting two interviews with Bartley, the latter in September 2014.
Britton said he needed to re-interview Bartley because he didn’t “feel like Mr. Bartley was being 100 percent truthful for doing what he did. we tried to come to an accurate conclusion about why that happened.”
The Trentonian will update this story.