Prosecutors: Alleged killers celebrated after North 25 murder
The alleged getaway driver in the North 25 housing complex shooting that killed a city woman and injured a 14-year-old girl last month was “celebrating” shortly after the homicide, prosecutors said on Thursday.
Togbah Kpehe, 23, is accused of aiding and abetting the murder of 58-year-old Wilma Rutledge. He borrowed a friend’s BMW and used the vehicle to transport the armed perpetrators to the North 25 area and interacted with them after the Oct. 6 slaying, authorities allege.
“I don’t dispute that my client gave a ride to those guys,” John Furlong, Kpehe’s defense attorney, said Thursday in court, adding his client had no advance knowledge of a murder plot and that there is “no evidence my client was a participant.”
The other co-defendants in the case are Trenton men Rahein McInnis, 32, and Zion Williams, 18, as well as two 16-year-old teens whom prosecutors have not identified because they are juveniles. Prosecutors say Williams and the two juveniles were armed when Kpehe dropped them off about a block away from the intersection of Carver Lane and North Willow Street in Trenton.
Kpehe did not witness the shooting, according to Furlong, who said his client was an unofficial rideshare service worker who occasionally transported people to various locations for a fee upon request. Kpehe drove Williams and both juveniles to the area near North 25 as a service and later met up with two of the alleged killers to get paid, Furlong said.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Heather Hadley said Kpehe was “not an Uber driver or a Lyft driver” and said the three alleged shooters had guns in their hands when Kpehe dropped them off, including one who was armed with what appeared to be a large-capacity ammunition clip.
At some point after the homicide, Kpehe met with two of the alleged killers in another part of the city and greeted them with hand-shaking or hand-clapping, Hadley said, adding, “There was no money that was exchanged.”
“There was some kind of agreement that this defendant was going to be a getaway driver for this shooting that happened at 3 in the afternoon,” Hadley said of Kpehe, citing surveillance video footage. “He is just as culpable as the individuals who pulled the trigger.”
No video was played in court during Kpehe’s detention hearing on Thursday, and Mercer County Superior Court Judge Ronald Susswein ordered Kpehe to be jailed without bail on pretrial detention. Hadley said video evidence shows Kpehe slapping hands with two of the alleged killers in a “celebratory” manner post-homicide.
Furlong said he had reviewed the state’s video evidence and saw no guns in the hands of the co-defendants who Kpehe dropped off and that “there is no celebratory handshaking” after the fatal shooting. “We don’t have probable cause to implicate my client,” he said. The judge nonetheless found probable cause to proceed with the hearing.
Furlong was unable to play any video evidence in court Thursday because he had the footage saved onto a Blu-ray disc and Susswein’s courtroom was not equipped to playback Blu-ray discs. The judge said he would reopen the detention hearing once Furlong gathers the video evidence in a format that can be played back in court.
Another point of contention on Thursday concerned the vehicle that Kpehe was driving on the afternoon of the fatal North 25 shooting. Prosecutors said Kpehe borrowed a BMW from a female friend, used the vehicle to transport the alleged shooters near the housing complex and then later ditched the vehicle in another part of the city, telling the vehicle’s owner that the BMW was carjacked.
Furlong said the state has a recording of Kpehe speaking with the car’s owner and that Kpehe in that conversation never said anything about a carjacking. A law-enforcement officer overheard that conversation between Kpehe and the car owner, Furlong said.
The car owner also gave a separate statement to police saying that Kpehe had told her the car was carjacked, Hadley said, adding, “All of her statement is on video.”
With the defense attorney and prosecutor not agreeing on certain facts in the case, Judge Susswein quipped, “This is not a mini-trial.”
Kpehe was arrested last week after turning himself in, and the other four co-defendants were arrested last month. All five defendants face murder charges for the elder victim’s homicide and attempted murder charges for the teenager getting wounded by gunfire. Kpehe is being prosecuted under the theory of accomplice liability, which is an aiding and abetting charge. He recently served time in state prison for possessing and distributing narcotics.
All three adult defendants in the case remain incarcerated without bail on pretrial detention, while the two juvenile defendants are presumably being held without bail and could potentially be waived up to adult court.