Defense attorney says killer cousin lied, his attorney endorsed perjury
Facing life imprisonment for murder, the cousin of a city man on trial for killing a city cop’s son did whatever he could to get a deal.
That included lying under oath at his cousin’s murder conspiracy trial, a defense attorney said.
Defense attorney Jack Furlong didn’t stop there, laying out bold and inflammatory allegations against the admitted killer, Robert Bartley, and his defense attorney, Caroline Turner, who helped broker a deal with prosecutors that included cooperation against Bartley’s cousin, Raheem Currie.
“Why do we bargain for the truth? Don’t we tell the truth naturally?” said Furlong, referring to what he contended was Bartley’s only truthful statement, when he was interrogated by detectives a day after 18-year-old James Austin, the son of a retired Trenton cop, was gunned down in February 2013. “He had a certain truthfulness to him when he was emotionally honest.”
The accusations from Furlong incensed Assistant Prosecutor James Scott, and Bartley’s attorney who said they hit “below the belt.”
“I would never accuse another defense attorney of suborning perjury,” Turner told The Trentonian.
Scott rebuffed Furlong’s suggestion in his closing, and also countered allegations from Bartley, who testified at trial that he was beaten by police the day he was arrested for fatally shooting James Austin.
The closing arguments turned into a referendum on the use of self-interested cooperators and police brutality, an issue that has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement and a counter-resistance, Blue Lives Matter, amid a string of high-profile killings of black men and police officers that has ravaged the nation.
The prosecutor pointed out how well Trenton Police detective Gary Britton treated Bartley when he interrogated him. And in a rare show for a defense attorney, he stood up for Turner.
“A lawyer is supporting perjury?” Scott said. “That’s what the lawyer’s gonna do? Ask her client to lie? Please.”
About Currie’s involvement, the prosecutor said: “Actions speak louder than words. Raheem Currie is responsible for James Austin’s death.”
Because he was the black son of retired Trenton Police sergeant Luddie Austin, James Austin’s death in Trenton three years ago cut across factions of urban Trenton, which distrusts police, and the law enforcement community that is sometimes at odds with residents.
That much was clear when a Trenton Police officer, Drew Astbury, described James Austin as “one of our own.”
Furlong, invoking a Greek historian and past images of urban warfare that plagued the capital city streets for decades, cautioned the jury not to let James Austin’s connections to police influence the outcome of the case.
He called what happened to James Austin a tragedy, but said the only thing Currie agreed to with his cousin was to get money back over the smashed window. Then Bartley took matters into his own hands.
“A Greek historian said, ‘In times of peace, sons bury fathers. In times of war, fathers bury sons,’” Furlong said. “But Herodotus has never been to Trenton, New Jersey.
“The state has a homicide victim the state does not have a murder victim. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances and a young man died. That’s called being 19. … That’s called testosterone. That’s called being a young man.”
Scott said “silly kid stuff” turned deadly serious when Currie called up Bartley moments after he and James fought, and busted each other’s car windows, and asked his cousin if he had his gun.
His cousin testified that he told Currie to come see him. And when he did, he flashed the gun at Currie and his girlfriend, Endia Kaver, and said, “I have it, so whatever you want to do.”
Currie told the driver, Brandon Hill, who was friends with James Austin, to head back toward the cop son’s East State Street home, Scott said.
“One shot, several lives destroyed,” the prosecutor said.
During an interrogation in February 2013, Bartley cried and confessed to killing James Austin but said he acted alone and his cousin wasn’t involved.
He urged police to send his friend, Ryan Small, home after Small got wrapped up in the case when Bartley hid his .32-caliber handgun in a crawlspace at Small’s home. Small was never charged and testified as a witness.
Bartley gave a second statement to police in September 2014, a day before he pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter.
In the second statement, which was not video recorded but transcribed by a detective, Bartley told authorities that Currie asked him if he had a gun.
“That’s not a recipe for accuracy,” Furlong said. “That’s a recipe for conformity.”
The defense attorney said Bartley has animus toward his cousin because he is sitting prison for intervening in Currie’s beef.
“You got me in this mess, and I’m the one serving time,” he said. “Dude, you shot the gun.”
Then Furlong turned his sights on Turner, suggesting he knew how her conversation with Bartley went. He said she suggested she could get him a deal if he gave prosecutors information that helped their case against Currie.
He also accused prosecutors of “cherry-picking” Bartley’s testimony. They want the jury to believe him testimony about Currie but not about the cops beatdown.
“These are polemic times in terms of police relationship with the community,” Furlong said. “There’s a wealth of emotions and people are being killed. It obviously struck a nerve when he said I got beat up. … They want you to cherry-pick Robert’s testimony, the one that is most favorable to us. The state was supposed to pick a lane. It straddled the middle.”
At trial, Scott called a detective to the stand to get Bartley’s mugshot in evidence, to show he was not battered by police officers who retaliated over James Austin’s death.
He defended the decision.
“These are charged times. Lots of people are concerned about police conduct,” Scott said. “And I knew you would want to see [his mugshot]. Am I saying Robert Bartley is lying? No. I’m not. His perspective is he’s being surrounded by police officers who know he used a gun. What are those officers gonna do? They’re gonna make sure they have control of Mr. Bartley.”