Urging dismissal, attorney for Newark gang member says third trial ‘destined’ for mistrial

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony  from State Police Detective Joseph Itri. Gregg Slaboda - The Trentonian

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony from State Police Detective Joseph Itri. Gregg Slaboda - The Trentonian

Convicting accused killer Shaheed Brown has become a family affair.

Meanwhile, the former Newark gang member continues to fight for his freedom in a case that has plagued Mercer County prosecutors who haven’t convinced juries in two trials six months apart that Brown gunned down 20-year-old Enrico Smalley Jr. outside a crime-ridden Trenton bar in 2014.

Brown’s attorney said in court papers a third trial is “destined” to end the same way.

The case has been passed on to Assistant Prosecutor Michelle Gasparian, the wife of retired prosecutor Brian McCauley.

McCauley handled the case at the first two trials – both ending in mistrials after juries came back deadlocked – before he retired this summer following 29 years with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Despite the past results, Gasparian is moving forward with the case. Brown has been locked up for more than two years and remains at the Hudson County jail on $1 million bail.

The judge who presided over the first two trials, Andrew Smithson, refused to reduce bail after Brown, while seated at the defense table, turned to a reporter at the back of the courtroom and expressed frustration with not being able to get a “fair shake” from the judge.

Smithson threw that in Brown’s face, citing the remark as proof of his belief that Brown would flee the court’s jurisdiction if he was found guilty by a jury. .

That didn’t happen, and the case has dragged on without an end in sight.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

Enrico Smalley Jr.

Brown’s attorney, citing the fundamental fairness doctrine in court papers, has asked prosecutors to dismiss the case, in part because of the hung juries and alleged moribund evidence linking Brown to Smalley’s death.

Having to due with due process rights, the fairness rule bars prosecutors from keeping someone locked up indefinitely in absence of a conviction.

“It’s doubtful that the state will ever get a conviction based on the facts,” Heyburn wrote, pointing out the murder weapon was never recovered and no one identified his client as the killer.

The case rises and falls with a surveillance tape that captured the last moments of Smalley’s life outside of La Guira Bar in the early-morning hours of July 12, 2014.

A retired corrections officer, Kenneth Crawford, who anonymously phoned 911 from a  pay phone outside of a 7-Eleven on North Olden Avenue, testified at both trials he was in his vehicle across the street from the bar when he heard shots and saw the head and body of a man with dreadlocks making a “jerking movement” as the shots rang out.

But his testimony was far from definitive for prosecutors.

Crawford, whose view was blocked by a Lincoln Navigator parked in front of the bar, said he never saw a gun.

Edward Heyburn

Edward Heyburn

Smalley and Brown both had dreadlocks, though prosecutors contend that after the murder Brown shaved his off his and skipped town for his stomping grounds of Newark.

Furthermore, Crawford said he saw Smalley’s picture in the newspaper after the murder and thought Smalley was the shooter because “it looked like the guy I saw doing the shooting.”

Brown, accompanied by his entourage, was shown arriving at the bar about 15 minutes before last call.

Dressed in a do-rag, white shirt and sagging cargo shorts, Brown was shown peeking his head into the vestibule and pacing around outside while chatting with members of his crew.

McCauley said at both trials Brown was casing the place and stalking his “prey,” as part of an ongoing feud with Smalley’s gun-toting associates who had chased him from the same bar a week before.

The tape, shown repeatedly to jurors at the two trials, left a lot to the imagination. It doesn’t capture the shooting, as Brown and Smalley stepped off screen before the shots.

As they were off screen, another since-murdered city man, Rodney Sutphin, grabbed the attention of Alvie “King” Vereen.

Prosecutors say this surveillance photo shows Shaheed Brown (left) and Enrico Smalley Jr. minutes before Smalley was gunned down outside of La Guira Bar on July 12, 2014.

Prosecutors say this surveillance photo shows Shaheed Brown (left) and Enrico Smalley Jr. minutes before Smalley was gunned down outside of La Guira Bar on July 12, 2014.

Vereen was pegged as the real killer by the defense because he stepped toward the area where Brown and Smalley were and suspiciously reached for his waistband.

The rub is the jury panels didn’t know of Brown’s close ties to Vereen. The friends arrived at the bar together, and prosecutors said, ran off from the bar together.

They were later arrested together in Newark, accused of carjacking one of Brown’s associates. The case never went forward, however, and was barred from evidence at Brown’s trials.

Brown’s next court appearance is set for January.

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