Jury delivers mixed verdict in murder of Lance Beckett

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

A jury has found 18-year-old Mada Eoff guilty of murdering Lance Beckett, who suffered fatal gunshot wounds in Trenton in September 2016, but the jury also found the city teen not guilty of brandishing a handgun for an unlawful purpose.

The jury’s mixed verdict, handed down Thursday morning, prompted public defender Jessica Lyons to argue for the Superior Court to overturn the murder conviction, saying it is “inconsistent” for her client to be convicted of murder while simultaneously being exonerated of the weapons offenses.

“Under case law, mixed verdicts are generally permitted,” Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Tim Ward told the court. “As a general rule, they are permitted.”

Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier said he would need some time to make a decision on whether to uphold or overturn the murder conviction. The defense and prosecution have each been asked to submit written briefs articulating their positions, and Billmeier suggested he will make a decision by mid-February.

If Billmeier upholds the mixed verdict, then Eoff is looking at 30 years to life in prison. After the court went into recess Thursday, Ward said he expects that “the murder verdict is going to stick.”

It is clear that the jury “spent a lot of time deliberating,” Ward said, “and they reached the verdict that they believe was correct.”

The state won a murder conviction in the case against Eoff despite having no DNA evidence, no murder weapon and no fingerprints linking the defendant to the crime. But what the state did have, however, was a co-defendant in the case who testified under oath that Eoff shot and killed 19-year-old Lance Beckett.

The testimony of Quashawn Emanuel, 19, who pleaded guilty in the case to a downgraded count of second-degree manslaughter committed recklessly, proved to be “very important in the case,” Ward said.

Eoff murdered Beckett during the afternoon of Sept. 18, 2016, with Trenton Police arriving on the scene about 2:50 p.m. to discover Beckett’s body lying face down in the grass along East Stuyvesant Avenue in the capital city. One shot struck Beckett in the neck, another shot struck him in the left shoulder and the kill shot entered through his back and exited through his chest, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

Surveillance footage in the area shows Beckett and three other individuals interacting with one another minutes before the grisly murder, according to Ward. Prosecutors said the three culprits were co-defendants Eoff, Emanuel and Omar Kennedy, 36, of Trenton, all of whom have been indicted on murder charges and weapons offenses in connection with the homicide.

Count one in the indictment charged all three defendants with purposeful murder; count two charged the defendants with unlawful possession of a handgun without first having obtained a permit to carry; and count three charged the defendants with possession of a handgun with the purpose to use it unlawfully against the victim.

Emanuel’s plea deal required him to testify against Eoff. In return for his cooperation, the state will dismiss Emanuel’s weapons offenses and ask a judge to sentence him to eight years of incarceration under the No Early Release Act for reckless manslaughter. Emanuel did not pull the trigger but played a role in luring Beckett to the scene to get murdered.

Emanuel and Kennedy both remain locked up at the Mercer County Correction Center on $1 million full bond or cash bail, while the convicted murderer Eoff is being held without bail. Kennedy is represented by pool attorney Steven Lember and is scheduled for a pretrial conference 1:30 p.m. Jan 29 before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw.

Emanuel is represented by private defense attorney Ross Gigliotti and is scheduled to be sentenced March 23. Eoff, if his murder conviction is upheld, is also scheduled to be sentenced March 23.

After the jury announced its mixed verdict, Eoff’s defense attorney told The Trentonian she had no comment.

With Eoff being found guilty of first-degree murder, “I’m glad for Lance’s family,” Assistant Prosecutor Ward told the press corps Thursday morning. “I hope this brings them some measure of relief. It can’t make things right, but hopefully it will help them move on a bit.”

blog comments powered by Disqus