Admitted killer says cousin knew about gun, told him to bring it in cop son slay
Robert Bartley said his cousin knew about, and saw, his .32-caliber handgun, which he kept stowed away in a shoebox inside the room of the cousins’ home in Trenton.
Bartley, formerly of Chicago, moved to Trenton sometime around 1999, he testified Thursday. At some point, he moved in with his cousin, Raheem Currie, and his girlfriend, Endia Kaver, at a home on the 600 block of Greenwood Avenue.
Wearing a blue and orange polo shirt pulled over his bright orange prison jumpsuit, Bartley offered dramatic testimony that his cousin knew about his gun, asked him to bring it with him to an East State Street home, and brandished it in front of him, on the day Bartley fatally shot 18-year-old James Austin, the fallen son of former city cop Luddie Austin.
“I pulled my gun out and asked him what he’s trying to do,” said Bartley, prosecutors’ star witness in Currie’s murder conspiracy trial.
Bartley took the stand the same day as another Trenton man who testified about Currie’s possible motive for retaliating against Austin.
The man, Brandon Hill, who was with Currie and drove him and Bartley from the murder scene, said that Austin robbed Currie two days before the murder.
Defense attorneys say that Bartley has his own motive for testifying. He accepted a plea, and agreed to testify against Currie, in exchange for a 25-year sentence.
Currie’s attorneys have not gotten an opportunity to cross examine Bartley yet, but plan to press him up about why he changed his story after repeatedly telling police during an interview a day after Austin was shot that his cousin was not involved and did not plan the killing.
Bartley, who is 18 months older, bigger and stronger than Currie, has been painted by the defense as someone who was protective of his cousin and took matters into his own hands when learning Austin broke the windshield of a Honda Civic belonging to Currie’s aunt.
Currie and some friends used it the day Austin was killed. Currie and Austin were involved in a fist fight prior to the shooting. They traded blows then broke each other’s windshields.
Currie was with Brandon Hill and his girlfriend, Kaver, who witnessed the fight and testified about it.
Hill, a 2012 graduate of Trenton Central High School, said Thursday he grew up with James Austin and they were friends. He was also “friendly” with Currie, who
was best friends with his brother.
On Feb. 26, 2013, Hill was with Currie and his girlfriend. They came from a Dollar General in West Windsor and headed back to Trenton, when they encountered Austin on East State Street.
Hill, who gave, short quick answers and grew angry with Currie’s defense attorney under cross examination, said he drove Currie’s car the day Austin was killed. He was never charged for having any role in the murder, and prosecutors stressed he was a witness.
At one point, Hill raised his hand while testifying and told the prosecutor he didn’t want to be photographed.
He described a phone call between Currie and Bartley that happened after the fight, as well as the shooting, after they picked up Bartley and returned to Austin’s East State Street home.
Hill said Bartley went up to Austin’s door, and moments later, he heard a gunshot. Bartley ran back and got in the car.
“[Bartley] said, ‘Nobody better say sh-t,’” Hill said.
Hill also testified about an apparent “beef” between Currie and Austin that predated the window-breaking.
He described it in detail at a hearing outside the jury’s presence. He said Austin robbed Currie of three bags of marijuana and punched him in the face with brass knuckles outside Currie’s home, two days before the murder.
Hill was at Currie’s home and learned about the alleged robbery when Currie came in with a swollen eye and told him about it.
The jury heard a cleaned-up version that did not include details about drugs or the word robbery. They were told that the men had a dispute and Austin took property from Currie.
Luddie Austin, James’ father, said Hill’s testimony was tough to take.
“It was troublesome,” he said. “You can see what some people are trying to do. I know my son and his character wouldn’t have been him out there robbing nobody.”
One of Bartley’s close friends, Ryan Small, told a jury Thursday what happened after Bartley shot Austin.
Bartley, who considered Small to be “like a brother,” admitted he hid his gun in Small’s parents’ home after the murder.
Small, who knew Bartley since third-grade, said he was with him in the basement when Bartley placed the gun in a black bag and stashed it in a small crawlspace, behind loose bricks.
“He didn’t ask me,” Small said. “It’s my house. I guess I had an option.”
Small was arrested with Bartley the next day, Bartley said. But after interviewing him, police ruled Small out as a suspect.
Police searched his home, and found the gun.
Small has lost contact with Bartley. They have not spoken in two years, he said, since Bartley was arrested for Austin’s murder.