Trenton men get life for murder of Mercer corrections officer

Former Mercer County corrections officer Carl Batie had a “heart as big as this world” and the swagger of a GQ model, his colleagues and family members said.

Elaine Batie, Carl’s mother, daubed her eyes while remembering the moment her second-oldest son was placed into her arms on March 3, 1985. She smiled so much her “cheeks began to hurt.”

Maurice Skillman

Maurice Skillman

That smile disappeared Nov 11, 2012, when Batie was shot in the head while celebrating the re-election of President Barack Obama with his brother, Karshawn, at a Trenton banquet hall.

“That smile I had on my face for 27 years became a frown,” Elaine Batie said. “Every day I think he’s coming home through the front door from a long day at work.”

Before a packed courtroom Friday in Mercer County criminal court, a judge handed life sentences to two city men for their roles in taking Batie’s life.

Maurice Skillman, 30, and Hykeem Tucker, 29, who were convicted following a second trial in June, were set to prison for 75 years for the murder of Batie.

They received consecutive 18-month terms for nearly striking a bouncer who was perched on a wood stoop monitoring the crowd at the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in the early-morning hours, when Skillman opened fire 22 times with a semi-automatic handgun.

Tucker’s sentence was harsher than the 55 years Assistant Prosecutor James Scott asked for, saying he felt that even though he was an accomplice Tucker was less responsible because didn’t pull the trigger.

Judge Andrew Smithson said, in handing down the life terms, he felt prosecutors would have asked for the death penalty if it hadn’t been abolished in 2007.

“These are the cases that try judges’ souls,” he said.

The judge said Skillman had a “terrorist” mentality when he fired at the crowd 22 times and called his decision “an incredibly cowardly act of violence.”

“The only way you can deter him is by keeping him away from people,” Smithson said. “The miracle here was that no one else was hit.”

Turning to Tucker, the judge said the men were “two peas in a pod.”

Carl Batie

Carl Batie

They planned the shooting together, hid a Tec-9 gun in the area and lurked in the shadows until they saw an opportunity around 1:15 a.m. as people were getting ready to leave the packed establishment.

Tucker acted as a lookout while Skillman opened fired – all of it captured on grainy surveillance tapes that were the foundation of prosecutors’ case.

Skillman maintained his innocence and will appeal his conviction. He said he prays for Batie’s family and sends his condolences. He apologized for “everything” they have been through.

Tucker, who didn’t speak, claimed in a pre-sentencing report that he was on Percocet and Xanax at the time of the shooting.

Skillman turned to the back of the family and told family members he loved them as he was led from the court.

Tucker’s attorney, Christopher Campbell, asked the judge for a 30-year sentence and expressed shock at the outcome.

“It was surprising, particularly when the state appeared to be not seeking an equivalent sentence,” he said. “I think the decision was more of a legal decision that both were charged with the same crime and the jury found them guilty of the same thing.”

A jury deliberated roughly 40 minutes at the retrial before convicting the men without asking any questions or reviewing the tapes a second time.

Jurors in the first trial were unable to determine whether it was Skillman and Tucker on the tapes and came back deadlocked.

For the judge, the tapes were definitive and were the only reason prosecutors convicted the men.

“[Tucker] was with him right down the line,” Smithson said. “That video will stay with me forever.”

Hykeem Tucker

Hykeem Tucker

Mercer County corrections officer Chanique Veal, who started at the same time as Batie in 2007, told the judge there were “no winners” in the case. She hoped the spirit of Batie, a magnanimous man who loved to dress up and bred dogs in his spare time, ”continues to shine.”

She said Batie’s mother was his “superhero” and praised her for her strength and resilience for enduring two trials.

Elaine Batie said her son’s death forced her into early retirement. She recalled the moments he has missed and lamented he doesn’t get to see his newborn nephew.

“I know this pain with last for life,” Elaine Batie said.

She hopes one day she can forgive Skillman and Tucker.

“Justice was done,” she said outside the courtroom. “And I pray for the city of Trenton.”

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