Prosecutors: Trenton teen told police botched robbery murder was a ‘one-man job’
Just do it – for sport.
A Nike sweater-clad city teenager shot a man to death during a “robbery gone bad,” prosecutors said Thursday.
The teenager’s co-defendant, also charged with murder after allegedly acting as a lookout, told police they robbed the city man over a cell phone because “it was something to do,” Assistant Prosecutor Tim Ward said.
The victim was 23-year-old Ricardo Montalvan Jr., who a defense attorney referred to as a “street thug” with a long rap sheet – which led the prosecutor to ask the defense attorney to make his case without using “pejoratives.”
The suspects are 16-year-old Divon Ray, charged as an accomplice to murder, and suspected killer, 17-year-old Zakeem Brown.
Ray was discovered by the authorities hiding under a car almost immediately after the slaying. Brown was arrested days later, at his mother’s home on Walnut Avenue, Ward said.
The teenage suspects’ names were made public for the first time Thursday after prosecutors waived them up as adults to face charges of murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses for the May 11 killing.
Ray told detectives he didn’t help Brown rob Montalvan because it was “a one-man job,” Ward said.
Brown, who was found guilty as a minor of disorderly conduct and a 2015 burglary charge, was on probation when he picked up the murder charge.
He allegedly couldn’t keep his stories straight because he’s not that smart, his attorney said. And he’s not guilty of murder because he was just trying to stay alive on the violent streets of Trenton, following a near-deadly tiff with Montalvan’s nephew earlier in the day.
Prosecutors dismissed those claims and laid out the case against the teens at Thursday’s hearing.
They believe they have a bulletproof case against the teens: high-quality surveillance showing both in the area prior to the murder; a murder weapon, supposedly recovered from the home of Brown’s mother and ballistically matched to shells from the scene; a black hooded Nike sweatshirt Brown allegedly wore the night of the murder; a backpack used to stow the handgun used in the crime; and the suspects’ admissions they were in the area.
Ward said they each pointed themselves out in surveillance stills.
“He put himself right there,” Ward said of Brown.
Each is being held at a Middlesex juvenile detention center on $500,000, after a judge increased bail from $250,000.
The teens allegedly stopped and talked near Whittaker Avenue, plotting what they were about to do, Ward said.
Prosecutors contend Brown changed his story numerous times about what happened next, when he allegedly shot Montalvan, as he sat inside his silver Toyota Camry parked on the 200 block of Whittaker Avenue.
Brown claimed, at one point, that Montalvan handed him a 9 millimeter semiautomatic handgun and he accidentally fired twice when he got startled after Ray shouted his name.
Ward couldn’t contain himself when he read that from an affidavit, letting out a dismissive chuckle.
Initially, Brown denied being with Ray that night, until he was shown surveillance clips and gave up the charade, admitting he was the one in the Nike hoodie, Ward said.
Brown also pinned the shooting on Ray, claiming he gave him the gun.
While driving with detectives to the juvenile detention center, he took that back and claimed he bought the handgun from someone on the streets but was still paying it off.
He didn’t say from whom he got the gun, which he claimed to have tossed into a canal. But that wasn’t true, either, Ward said.
Brown’s story got better.
Hartmann said he has “powerful evidence” that will vindicate Brown.
The defense attorney contended Brown was defending himself after Montalvan and his nephew, a man known only by the street name “Stacks Wopo,” rode around Trenton trying to “hunt” him down earlier in the day.
The resulting carnage was “inadvertent,” Hartmann said.
“Unfortunately, some shots rang out,” he said. “It wasn’t [Brown’s] intent to kill anyone. He’s trying to protect himself, protect his family.”
Brown – “a nice kid” who was not the “sharpest tool in the shed” – claims Stacks Wopo (Hartmann didn’t know his “Christian name”) instigated the murder.
They came to blows earlier over a girl, Hartmann said. Brown won, which didn’t sit well with Stacks. He wanted revenge, Hartmann said, and set out with Montalvan to find Brown.
As they drove in Montalvan’s vehicle, they spotted Brown walking with his younger nephew across the “Trenton Makes” bridge, Hartmann said.
Stacks Wopo allegedly pulled out a gun and pointed it at Brown, who took off running.
Hartmann called Montalvan a criminal reprobate, referring to his arrest last April, when authorities found him in his car smoking a joint. He also had prescription pills, ecstasy and two guns, a .38 caliber revolver and a .380 semi-automatic pistol, with him.
“These were two street thugs going around threatening a bunch of 17-year-old kids,” Hartmann said.
Later, Stacks sent text and video messages to Brown, Hartmann said.
One showed him holding a .38-caliber handgun with an ominous message: “My sh— don’t jam. You lucky you ran. I was gonna nail your stupid a—.”
Brown texted back: “I guess.”
Stacks, claiming he packs heat like the oven door, wrote back: “You a b–-. I got six for you. My n–— got the drop on you. Be safe.”
He allegedly tacked on smiley-face emoticons to the end of the message.
Ward said Brown never named-dropped the infamous Stacks Wopo when he was interrogated by police over two hours.
He shrugged off Hartmann’s so-called powerful evidence as speculation that doesn’t “prove a whole lot,” while adding his office will investigate the allegations.
Even accepting Brown’s claims, Ward said, it doesn’t get him out of a murder rap.
“Then we have two individuals who trekked halfway across Trenton with a gun, with the express purpose to confront somebody … who was unarmed, sitting in his own car, not doing anything to anyone,” the prosecutor said.
Jamie Hubert, Ray’s attorney, downplayed her client’s alleged involvement in the murder and pointed out he is trying to better himself while his case progresses.
Ray, who has been raised by his grandmother, is working toward his high school diploma, interested in culinary arts and cosmetology.
Ray was found delinquent in the past of robbery and eluding, for leading cops on a chase car chase before crashing.
His sentence was suspended and he had just left a juvenile residential home but was still being supervised by probation officials when the murder occurred, Ward said.
Prior to being accused of murder, he applied to summer jobs at fast-food joints and Six Flags.
But there is nothing amusing about the charges.
The teens face life sentences if they’re convicted.
Hartmann acknowledged the case is a “ very sad story. What you have here is a young man who was trying to act in self-defense. Unfortunately, an individual [died.] That individual certainly placed himself in the position that happened.”