Jury has questions, re-hears testimony in Trenton cop son’s slay case
The jury in the Raheem Currie murder conspiracy trial on Tuesday asked to re-hear testimony from prosecutors’ star witness, focusing on a phone call in which two cousins allegedly discussed a handgun used to kill a retired city cop’s son.
The 12-member panel this morning listened a second time to excerpts of Robert Bartley’s testimony. They returned minutes later and asked a judge for clarification about a lesser charge of aggravated manslaughter.
Currie’s attorney expressed concerns about the jury hearing portions of the testimony and not having the full context.
Prosecutors suggested at trial the cousins engaged in a conspiracy to kill Austin.
Bartley, Currie’s cousin, has admitted to fatally shooting 18-year-old James Austin in February 2013, after he intervened in a spat between Currie and Austin that prosecutors said started as a “silly street fight.
Austin, a father of twin girls and the slain son of retired Trenton sergeant Luddie Austin, was shot once in the chest in the doorway an East State Street home as his girlfriend, LaPorsha Guy, held one of the couple’s infant daughters.
Bartley accepted a plea deal calling for 25 years in prison and is awaiting sentencing.
Currie faces life imprisonment if he is convicted of murder as an accomplice. He also faces a conspiracy charge for possessing weapons as well as weapons charges.
A jury can also find him guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter if it can’t agree on the murder charge.
Currie, who did not testify at trial, has denied having anything to do with Austin’s death, pitting his word against his cousin’s.
The trial has gripped Trenton, the home of Luddie Austin, a reality TV cast member and black cop who worked the city streets for nearly two decades.
Luddie Austin has appeared on the A&E reality television show, “Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force.”
James Austin, the black son of the well-known cop, has become a unifying symbol amid outcry and distrust of police in urban neighborhoods across the nation.
James’ name was read by Regina Thompson-Jenkins, the mother of another murdered city man, at a rally last month outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where supporters called for tighter gun control to quell violence on the nation’s inner city streets.
A city cop testified that the death of James Austin, whom he referred to as “one of our own,” took a toll on the Trenton Police department.
Bartley took the stand and claimed, among other things, he was beaten by police when he was arrested, turning the trial into a referendum on police brutality.
That was one of the most dramatic moments in the trial, eclipsed only when defense attorney Jack Furlong, in his closing argument, suggested Bartley’s attorney supported perjury by allowing her client to strike a deal with prosecutors in exchange for false testimony against Currie.
The accusation created a rift between Furlong and public defender Caroline Turner.
And a New York law professor said the defense attorney crossed an ethical line by making the accusation with no facts to corroborate the claim.
But it was Bartley’s testimony that came back into focus Tuesday, when the jury listened to clips of his direct and cross examinations prior to returning to the jury room to resume deliberations.
He denied that he and his cousin conspired to kill the retired cop’s son.
But a day before he accepted a 25-year plea deal for aggravated manslaughter, Bartley gave authorities a second statement where he said for the first time that Currie knew about his gun and asked him to bring it to Austin’s home.
Bartley kept the gun in a shoebox in his room, he testified. He said his cousin and two others picked him up the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2013, prior to the fatal shooting.
Currie and James Austin were involved in a fist fight earlier that day, which culminated with the men busting out each other’s car windows.
Currie threw a tire iron threw Austin’s windshield, while Austin jumped on top of the windshield of a Honda Civic that belonged to Currie’s aunt.
Bartley said he went with his cousin, Endia Kaver, Currie’s girlfriend, and Brandon Hill, a friend of Austin, over to the East State Street home to get Austin to pay for the broken windshield.
Bartley said that before he was picked up, he received a phone call from Currie in which his cousin asked him if he had his gun.
Neither Kaver nor Hill – both of whom testified – mentioned hearing Currie ask during the phone conversation about a gun.
Kaver, who has been in a seven-year relationship with Currie, said that her boyfriend asked for her phone to call home.
She heard Currie ask someone on the other end of the line, presumably Bartley, whether his mother was home.
Bartley said that when the group arrived to pick him up, he showed his .32-caliber gun to Currie and Kaver while they sat in the back seat of the car. Kaver called Currie a “p–-,” Bartley said.
Bartley recalled saying that he had the gun so it was “whatever” Currie wanted to do.
Currie told the driver, Hill, to head back toward Austin’s home, Bartley said.
When they arrived, Bartley hopped out of the car. Kaver said she heard Bartley say he was going to “spray up” the home, but she repeatedly said she did not know what he meant.
She told police during an interview after the fatal shooting that she remembered thinking, “Lord, don’t let this get out of hand.”
Bartley, when he testified, denied saying he was going to spray up the home. He said he got out of the car and found Austin’s door cracked open.
The men argued. Austin cussed him out and refused to pay for the broken windshield.
Bartley told the cops he didn’t know who Austin was and whether he had something in his hand. He said Austin lunged toward him and he fired one shot.
Bartley got back into the car, he said, and told everyone to keep their mouths shut.
He got dropped off at the Hanford Place home of a friend, Ryan Small, where he hid his gun in a basement crawlspace, behind some loose bricks. He and Small were arrested the next day.
Small was released when police determine he was not involved in the murder.