Judge tosses conspiracy count in Trenton man’s cop son murder case
While he refused to toss out a more serious charge of murder, a judge on Wednesday dismissed a murder conspiracy count against a city man who allegedly plotted with a cousin to kill a retired city cop’s son in 2013.
Assistant Prosecutor James Scott conceded that there was not enough evidence to support a charge of conspiracy to commit murder against Raheem Currie, the cousin of admitted killer Robert Bartley.
The jury will still consider a lesser conspiracy charge, as well as counts of murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The murder carries a potential life sentence for Currie if he is found guilty.
Prosecutors pursued the murder charge under the state’s accomplice liability law that makes Currie responsible for James Austin’s death even though he did not pull the trigger.
Bartley, Currie’s cousin, admitted fatally shooting James Austin, the slain 18-year-old son of retired Trenton Police sergeant Luddie Austin, in February 2013.
Judge Pedro Jimenez said that under accomplice liability Currie, who chose not to testify, could still be “vicariously responsible” for Austin’s murder because his death from Robert Bartley’s actions was “reasonably foreseeable.”
“The defendant did not balk when Mr. Bartley showed him the gun,” Jimenez said. “Why else bring a gun to a fist fight? Bringing a gun, it’s not inconceivable that gun can be utilized for more than talk.”
Bartley admitted fatally shooting James Austin, following a dispute outside Austin’s East State Street home.
The dispute started when Currie and Austin fought each other and then broke each other’s car windows.
Currie and two others picked up Bartley and later returned to Austin’s house.
Bartley confronted Austin about the broken window, demanded the cop’s son pay for it and shot him once in the chest when he refused and cussed out Bartley.
Bartley struck a plea with prosecutors by admitting to aggravated manslaughter. He testified against his cousin, saying Currie called him and asked him if he had his gun, and is expected to receive 25 years in prison for his cooperation.
For Currie, the dismissal of the murder conspiracy count was a minor win.
The jury can still consider whether a conspiracy existed between Currie and Bartley to possess and use a handgun against James Austin.
It was distinction that confused some of Austin’s family members.
The four-count indictment against Currie, in effect, contained two forms of conspiracy under the single charge — conspiracy to commit murder and the weapons conspiracy.
The dismissed murder conspiracy charge carried a maximum of 20 years in
prison upon conviction; the weapons conspiracy carries a maximum of 10 years for Currie if he is convicted.
“There is a zero evidence of a conspiracy there is affirmative evidence of no conspiracy,” defense attorney Jack Furlong said.
Furlong pointed to the testimony – or lack thereof – from witnesses Brandon Hill, the driver who was never charged, and Endia Kaver, Currie’s girlfriend.
Kaver testified that her boyfriend used her phone to call Bartley, but he never asked him if he had his gun. She recalled that when they got to the house, Bartley said he was going to spray up the house.
Kaver said she didn’t know what that meant. But she told police she remembered thinking, “Lord don’t let this get out of hand.”
Her testimony conflicted with Bartley, who said he received a call from Currie and that his cousin asked during the phone call whether he had his gun.
He said he flashed that gun toward Currie and Kaver inside the car, prior to their arrival at Austin’s home.
When he testified, Hill, who was driving at the time, did not mention anything about hearing or seeing a gun.
“Why would Mr. Currie call Mr. Bartley and ask him if he had a gun unless there was a purpose to use it against Mr. Austin in some way,” Scott said.