Judge upholds Trenton murder conviction in slaying of Lance Beckett

Coldhearted killer Mada Eoff, who was convicted last month on first-degree murder charges while also being acquitted of weapons offenses, now faces 30 years to life in state prison after a judge upheld his mixed verdict.

Eoff murdered 19-year-old Lance Beckett during the afternoon of Sept. 18, 2016, with Trenton Police arriving on the scene about 2:50 p.m. to discover the victim lying face down in the grass along East Stuyvesant Avenue in the capital city.

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

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. A jury on Jan. 25 found Eoff, 18, to be fully responsible for the murder and handed down a verdict finding him guilty on that count.

But prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Eoff possessed a handgun without a permit and that he possessed it for the purpose to commit murder, so the jury found Eoff not guilty on both of the weapons offense counts. 

Public defender Jessica Lyons argued for the Superior Court to overturn the murder conviction, saying it was “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 on Jan 25. “As a general rule, they are permitted.”

After three weeks of thoughtful consideration, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier made his decision last Friday. He sided with the prosecution and denied the defense motion that had sought a judgment of acquittal on Eoff’s murder conviction. The defense motioned for a new trial, but Billmeier also shot that request down last Friday, court records show.

The state won a murder conviction in the case against Eoff despite having no DNA evidence, no murder weapon and no fingerprints linking him 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 Beckett in cold blood.

The testimony of Quashawn Emanuel, 19, who previously pleaded guilty in the case to a downgraded count of second-degree reckless manslaughter, proved to be “very important in the case,” Ward said in an interview following Eoff’s conviction.

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.

Police arrested Eoff and Emanuel several days after the September 2016 slaying and arrested Kennedy three weeks later. Eoff was initially prosecuted as a 17-year-old juvenile, but authorities waived him to adult court last April and placed him on pretrial detention. He turned 18 last July.

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 remains held without bail. Kennedy is represented by pool attorney Steven Lember and is scheduled for a March 5 pretrial conference before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw.

Convicted murderer Eoff is scheduled to be sentenced 2:30 p.m. March 23 before Judge Billmeier.

Self-confessed killer Emanuel is represented by private defense attorney Ross Gigliotti and is scheduled to be sentenced April 20 before Warshaw for reckless manslaughter.

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