Prosecutors name accused killer charged with shooting Trenton teen
A city teenager accused of killing 16-year-old Ciony Kirkman was quietly waived up as an adult last month to face murder charges in a random killing stemming from an apparent dispute over music disrespectful of a neighborhood gang.
Teenager Peter Charles Jr. has been charged with murder, six counts of aggravated assault and weapons offenses in connection with the April 24 slaying of Kirkman, who was shot in the head while inside a stolen van with six others minors.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said criminal complaints were filed in October against Charles, who was 17 years old at the time of the killing. He turned 18 in July.
The teen suspect’s name was not made public by prosecutors until Wednesday, when The Trentonian asked prosecutor Angelo Onofri’s office for an update on the case.
The prosecutor’s office did not provide a mugshot of the teen suspect.
Charles has not made a first appearance as an adult in Mercer County criminal court. His case is being handled by Assistant Prosecutor James Scott.
Charles’ initial appearance took place at a sealed hearing in juvenile court before Judge Lawrence DeBello, who set bail at $500,000 cash. Juvenile matters are not open to the public.
Charles pleaded not guilty to the charges at that hearing, and prosecutors have yet to extend a plea offer, his attorney said.
Charles’ attorney told The Trentonian in a phone interview Wednesday the case against his client is “nonsensical” and he will explore an alibi to show Charles was not present at the time of the shooting.
“We contend that is a misidentification,” said defense attorney Bruce Throckmorton, who handled the high-profile police shooting case of injured Trenton teenager Radazz Hearns earlier this year.
Throckmorton said he has reviewed grainy surveillance prosecutors contend shows Charles moments before the shooting, walking toward the scene and leaving.
Throckmorton said the tapes did not capture the shooting, and he is adamant, “It’s pretty clear it’s not him.”
Throckmorton said witnesses will contradict the prosecution’s witnesses who identified Charles as the gunman. Those defense witnesses have not spoken to police, Throckmorton said.
Authorities did not recover a gun, Throckmorton said, and prosecutors don’t have a clear motive for the killing. They don’t need one to get a conviction with a jury.
The story, Throckmorton said, is the shooting happened after a Kirkman and six other teens rode up Jersey Street twice in a stolen minivan on April 24.
They had come from Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne, Pa., Throckmorton said, and were apparently bumping rap music which offended members of the “130 boys,” some sort of neighborhood gang.
Throckmorton did not know whether the group had connections to the Bloods or Crips street gangs in Trenton, nor could he say why they were perturbed by music blaring from the stolen Ford Windstar.
Throckmorton said his client is not a gang member.
As the minivan made the return trip, it was lit up by a gunman, Throckmorton said.
Police have said the minivan was ambushed by gunfire on Jersey Street around 6:30 p.m. on April 24.
Several sources contended to The Trentonian that residents of Jersey Street were warned the street was “going to be lit up like a firecracker” prior to the shooting.
Minutes after the warning, sources say, they heard at least a dozen gunshots in rapid succession.
Kirkman was struck in the head, was on life support and died two days later at a local hospital. Her death touched a nerve in the capital city and was one in a spate of killings where the victims were teenagers.
“How would my guy know the van’s coming?” Throckmorton said. “There’s pieces missing, and I can’t imagine those pieces would tell us the whole story.”
Throckmorton said his client has no known connection to Kirkman. He said his client may have known other individuals in the car, which was a mix of males and females.
The owner of the stolen minivan was identified and doesn’t appear to a connection to Charles or Kirkman, Throckmorton said.
Kirkman was a student at Daylight/Twilight High School. She became the city’s fifth murder victim.
Her funeral service was interrupted by an unfounded report of gunfire, police said.
Charles is still being held at the Middlesex juvenile detention center.
Throckmorton will ask a judge to reconsider lowering his client’s bail at a future hearing.
The defense attorney understands he is swimming upstream with city residents who were outraged about the murder.
“Any homicide is upsetting,” Throckmorton said. “You would hope people would be upset. None of it is OK. Doesn’t mean it was this kid.”