Troubled gang member fingers disabled Trenton man for murder
A disabled Trenton man who took special education classes throughout high school and whose IQ is far below average is viewed by prosecutors as a “lying murderer,” his defense attorney said.
And now a real gangster who may be a “professional cooperator,” having ratted on other Trenton men for murder and attempted murder, has pointed the finger at Robert Smith for the drive-by killing of Sidique Richardson-Howlen.
The state-approved snitch and apparent member of the 793 Bloods, Hector Maldonado, has his own problems. He was one of several members indicted in a massive racketeering case leveled against the violent street gang.
In exchange for a plea bargain, Maldonado has come forward with information implicating Smith for allegedly knowing what was about to go down when he got behind the wheel of his mother’s station wagon in April 2013.
Smith’s defense attorney contends in court papers that police and prosecutors pinned the murder on Smith and didn’t investigate whether one of the Galilee Baptist Church shooters was the real killer.
Further, prosecutors have asked a judge to exclude a defense expert who will testify about Smith’s educational difficulties and mental limitations, claiming her report offers inappropriate opinions about the murder suspect’s credibility.
Smith was at a carnival near Route 29 and Cass Street on April 5, 2013, when gunshots rang out and sent people scattering in all directions.
As he was getting in his car to drive off, Smith was approached by two men who offered him $10 to give them a ride.
The men got in the back seat of a station wagon belonging to Smith’s mother.
While Smith chauffeured the men around, one of them rolled down the window and fired a shot at a group of people standing on Home Avenue at the intersection of Jersey Street.
Richardson-Howlen was struck in the hail of bullets and killed almost instantly; another person was shot in the leg.
Onlookers couldn’t identify the shooters but recognized the vehicle as one belonging to Smith’s mother, because of its gold doors and burgundy frame, according to court papers.
Smith was “shocked and horrified” about what happened and, after dropping off the two men and giving them their money back, called his mother and told her.
She told him to go home and wait for the police. They arrived the next day, taking him down to the police station for an interview.
Smith was interrogated four times, over several hours, according to court papers.
He cooperated with the police, even eventually providing them with the name of the shooter, whom he identified as Samier “Bus” Vincent, according to court papers.
Vincent is one of the three convicted Galilee Baptist Church shooters, who along with his brother Samuel, admitted to shooting Kashon Beckett and targeting unnamed North Trenton gang members, when they fired into a crowd of mourners at the funeral of 19-year-old Cagney Roberts in 2013.
But because he kept jumbling the route he took after the shooting, Smith was eventually charged as an accomplice to murder.
“Because of that they believe he must be lying and he must have been the murderer,” Turner said.
Police waited to charge Smith, initially allowing him to walk free, but later sent a fugitive task force after him when they learned he was out of state, Turner said.
Worried about her stressed-out son, Smith’s mother bought him a plane ticket to visit relatives in North Carolina.
Sometime after that, police armed with a warrant came to arrest Smith.
His mother bought him a plane ticket back to Trenton so he could surrender.
During a second round of questioning, Smith told police he knew the name of the shooter, claiming to have seen him on the streets.
Police apparently didn’t follow up the lead, and Samier Vincent was never questioned, according to the court papers.
The authorities didn’t have much on Smith until Maldonado came forward and gave them a statement two years after the shooting.
Maldonado has also given statements on fellow gang member Shabazz Boyd in the racketeering case, on another murder suspect, Masiyah Howard, and perhaps in cases in other counties, according to Turner.
In Smith’s case, Maldonado told members of the county homicide task force he was Smith’s bunkie at the correction center and had a “couple of conversation” with him in their shared cell in May and August 2014.
Maldonado waited another year before approaching detectives with the information he allegedly obtained.
Maldonado told police Smith admitted he was at the carnival with people from Trenton’s Wilbur Section.
A fight apparently broke out and someone was badly beaten by the Jersey Street boys. The Wilbur Street crew wanted to get revenge on the Jersey Street crew, so they directed Smith to drive them to “shoot them n–—,” according to court papers.
Maldonado lived on Jersey Street and hung out with Richardson-Howlen in the past. He gave authorities the alleged route Smith took after leaving the carnival.
“The only evidence of any motive or intent for conspiracy to murder Sidique Howlen comes from the testimony of the jailhouse informant whose own gang activity with the 793 Blood street gang is notorious,” Turner wrote.
Turner cited a federal case that said using jailhouse informants to prosecute cases is “fraught with peril” and cited a statistic about how nearly half of the first 111 death-row convictions were overturned because of false testimony from informants.
About her client, who had been offered 20 years, Turner said: “This guy is innocent. I know it in my bones.”