Attorneys for suspected Route 29 killers play blame game
Unfurling their blame-shifting strategy, attorneys for two city men accused of killing another man during a Route 29 drive-by shooting four years ago asked a retired Trenton Police detective about boundless possibilities, suggesting cops overlooked other more likely suspects.
In his classic cynical style, patented and perfected over his more than two decades in law enforcement, a nonplussed Gary Britton conceded little when he testified Thursday, sometimes belittling attorneys with remarks as condescending as the questions they asked.
For example, he quipped he couldn’t answer an inquiry from the attorney for suspected killer Andre Romero because he wasn’t a smoker.
The retired Trenton Police detective, who spent 24 years on the force and loosely dubbed parts of his job as “victimology,” wasn’t buying the smoke-and-mirrors tactics employed by attorneys for Romero and William “Bill Bill” Mitchell, who is being tried alongside his co-defendant, as they looked to pin the crime on someone else.
The pair is accused of opening fire on a white Ford Taurus driven by 23-year-old Daquan Dowling, as he and another man, Morris Satchel, rode leisurely in the slow lane of Route 29 around dusk of Jan. 30, 2012.
After pulling up in a stolen Chrysler Sebring and allegedly riddling the car with bullets – apparently intended for Satchel – and striking Dowling in the head, killing him instantly, Romero, Mitchell and two others abandoned the crashed car on the highway and fled toward the William Trent House, leaving a trail of evidence in their wake, prosecutors said.
The evidence included guns, a fake Jamaican wig and cell phones, said Britton, who was assigned to the county’s homicide task force at the time and testified about how his investigation led him all the way to Virginia.
Prosecutors played clips capturing the two vehicles near the Market Street exit, as Britton pointed out for jurors specks of light he said were muzzle flashes from the gunshots. Four people were also captured bailing out of the stolen car, as the retired detective used a laser to point them out for the jury.
Britton also testified how he was familiar with Mitchell and had learned his nickname, “Bill Bill,” while investigating the unrelated 2007 murder of Bloods gang member Arnold Poole, a popular figure who was gunned down after a fashion show.
Mitchell was apparently friends with Poole, Britton said.
Britton said that it had been a particularly gory week in Trenton prior to the sensational Route 29 murder, apparently targeting Satchel, who later died in an ATV accident.
“Every single night we tried to sit down and have a meal we were interrupted by someone being shot,” Britton said.
The highway carnage forced authorities to close the highway overnight, outraging commuters driving home during rush-hour traffic and even leading to a phone call from an upset Gov. Chris Christie, Britton said.
Britton said as he and other detectives looked for leads on the murder, they received information from State Police’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center, known to detectives as Rock, about where to get surveillance that might help them identify suspects.
They obtained some footage from a bridge commission surveillance system, which captured parts of the incident, and helped authorities identify the suspects’ vehicle.
The Sebring had been reported stolen by a city woman. Louis Alvarado, a man who defense attorneys pointed to as a possible murder suspect, pleaded guilty in 2014 to lifting the vehicle from outside La Guira Bar.
He was never charged for having any role in Dowling’s murder, but defense attorneys focused on him nonetheless while cross examining Britton.
Patrick O’Hara, Romero’s attorney, noted Alvarado was uncooperative during the investigation, because his fingerprints were all over the stolen vehicle and he had been implicated in the murder.
Authorities also found cigarette butts on scene with Alvarado’s DNA.
No matter how detectives pressed, Alvarado seemed to “care less” about whether he was charged with murder, O’Hara said.
“There was a lot of things you could say about Alvarado,” Britton said. “That’s probably one of them.”
O’Hara also pointed to a Chicago Bulls cap recovered on scene that came back with DNA belonging to Anthony Marks, one of the four men in the stolen Sebring.
Marks, the driver, pleaded guilty to lesser gun charges as part of a 10-year plea deal with prosecutors.