Trenton man killed city man in 2014 to save his own skin
Curtis Grier was a God-fearing city man who went to church every Sunday. His parents told a judge they raised him to respect the law and his elders. His father is a retired corrections officer and his family is tight with retired Trenton police officers.
Yet in June 2014, two hours after his family friend clung to life after he was felled by three gunshots, Grier took matters into his own hands, a judge said Thursday at sentencing in Mercer County criminal court.
The judge agreed with Assistant Prosecutor William Fisher’s statement that Grier was a “vigilante.”
“Mr. Grier took it upon himself to arrange a reckoning,” Judge Peter Warshaw said, in handing down a 10-year sentence to the admitted killer. “The tragedy of this case is it didn’t have to occur.”
Grier walked the city streets, free on bail, for more than two years, knowing he gunned down Jahmir Hall, a 24-year-old city man who relatives said had started to turn a corner.
Grier pleaded guilty earlier this year to reckless manslaughter, confounding some city residents.
How was an admitted killer roaming free?
What few knew before Thursday was that Grier was provoked, defense attorney Robin Lord said.
Hours before Grier shot Hall five times on Quinton Avenue, Hall tried to kill another city man.
Jason Guillaume, who described Grier as a “brother” and a friend for more than 10 years, said he was getting out of his car April 19, 2014, when he heard footsteps.
It was an ambush, Hall the apparent gunman who fired on him three times, severely wounding him.
Another innocent bystander was also struck in the hail of bullets, he said.
“I almost died from loss of blood,” Guillaume said.
Hall wasn’t done, apparently. Grier was next on the hit list.
Hall’s grandmother, Ellen, didn’t buy it.
“I knew and raised Jahmir,” she said after the hearing. “He wouldn’t do that.”
To this day, it’s unclear why Hall apparently targeted Guillaume, Grier and a third man.
Guillaume declined an interview after the sentencing.
Hall was never charged for the shooting because he died two hours later, mowed down by Grier.
Grier admitted he armed himself with a gun and sought out Hall. He said he planned to talk him down, get him to remember the “good times,” about how they were friends.
Things turned out differently.
He and Hall argued on Quinton Avenue. Grier said that Hall pulled out a gun on him, so he cut him down, afraid for his life.
“I don’t know what got into him,” Grier told the judge.
In a panic, Grier grabbed Hall’s gun and ran back to a parked black Mercedes Benz, where co-defendant Daniel McCargo was waiting. He handed over Hall’s gun.
That was the weapon police found on McCargo when they pulled the men over following the slaying.
Ballistics showed it wasn’t the murder weapon. McCargo got seven years for gun possession but didn’t admit involvement in Hall’s killing.
Lord said what happened wasn’t murder.
Her client was scared for his life and made a imprudent decision to try to save his skin – one that confounded Warshaw, perceived by many in the local defense bar as prosecutor masquerading as a judge because of some of his harsh sentences.
Warshaw spent decades as a prosecutor before ascending to chief prosecutor in Monmouth County, his daily routine defined by interactions with police.
Warshaw couldn’t understand how Grier, having grown up in a law enforcement family and with strong ties to police officers in the local department, didn’t go to the cops.
He cited a letter from a Trenton officer who urged him not to view Grier as other trouble-plagued “kids in Trenton.”
“Yet here he is, and he killed someone,” Warshaw said.
“People make really bad decisions in the heat of the moment,” Lord countered.
Grier couldn’t explain his actions.
“It was a bad, stupid decision,” he said. “I regret it to this day. I wasn’t thinking. I can’t undo the hurt.”
Grier’s parents told the judge their son’s actions were uncharacteristic.
“My hearts breaks. No mother wants to see this,” she said.
“He’s not a troublesome kid,” said Ralph Grier, a 20-year ex-prison guard who rose to lieutenant before he was unraveled by a 2004 official misconduct conviction for taking photos of a female inmate at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, according to published reports.
Grier’s father apparently turned over his life to a higher power after that, becoming a deacon and his son’s Sunday school teacher.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” Ralph Grier said of Hall’s death.
To Hall’s relatives, it was more than that.
Cousin Bernadette Hall said the hurt remains every day.
Hall’s grandmother said she’ll never see her grandson’s “mile-wide smile” again or hear his voice calling out “nana baby.”
“Death has robbed us of his presence,” Ellen Hall said. “When Curtis killed Jahmir, he killed every one of us. There is no closure. Closure is a cliché.”