Trenton teen faces 224 years in prison for murdering Ciony Kirkman in wild shooting
That’s the verdict Peter Charles Jr. heard 16 times Thursday afternoon when a jury convicted him on all counts in his murder trial.
Charles, 19, of Trenton, shot and killed 16-year-old Ciony Kirkman in a brazen April 2016 shooting in the city’s South Ward.
With prosecutors presenting an ironclad case, all 12 jurors were firmly convinced that Charles shot at the minivan that Ciony and six other juveniles were occupying on that fateful evening in the area of Jersey Street and Home Avenue.
“The evidence supported the conviction,” Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor James Scott said Friday in an interview with The Trentonian. “It is a very tragic situation, and we hope there is some peace for Ciony’s family and for the surviving teenagers as well. They were also victims in this case and suffered a tremendous trauma not only being shot at multiple times, but also losing their friend Ciony. Some of them have been friends with Ciony since second grade.”
Charles, then 17, armed himself with a handgun and fired numerous shots at the Ford Windstar about 6:25 p.m. April 24, 2016. One of those shots struck Ciony in the head. She died two days later from her injuries.
Detective Patrick Holt, a Ewing cop assigned to the Mercer County Homicide Task Force, arrested Charles on April 29, 2016. Charles was eventually waived up to adult court and indicted on 16 counts, including one count of first-degree murder, six counts of first-degree attempted murder, seven counts of fourth-degree aggravated assault with a firearm, one count of second-degree possession of a firearm for unlawful purposes and one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit.
While Scott and fellow Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Brett Berman tried the case, the prosecution gives major credit to Detective Holt for solving the case and bringing Charles to justice.
“He did just an unbelievable job in the investigation,” Scott said of Holt. “He put together a really great case, and it was his work that really made a huge difference in this case.”
The convicted murderer Charles could be sentenced to 224 years of state incarceration for being found guilty of murdering Ciony and attempting to murder the six other occupants riding inside the minivan. That is the maximum exposure Charles faces for his crimes, according to Scott.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Darlene Pereksta is scheduled to sentence Charles on July 20, although that hearing could be postponed due to the complexities surrounding the case.
“New Jersey law provides that when you have multiple victims, particularly in a situation like this, the judge is well within her discretion to run it consecutively,” Scott said of Charles’ 16 convictions.
The prosecutor does not know what Pereksta will do but suggested he wants to see a fair punishment imposed against Charles for all his heinous crimes.
“I would like a sentence that’s justified and that’s likely to be upheld,” Scott said Friday when asked what punishment the state will recommend in this case, adding he wants to meet with Ciony’s grieving family members to help him decide what the recommended sentence should be.
“At this point we have to review everything in the case, and we will make a sentencing recommendation before sentencing,” Scott said. “Ciony was loved very much by her family and by her friends, and it was a big loss to all of them. She was a beautiful girl, and for this to happen to her is awful.”
Ciony Kirkman was a student enrolled in Trenton’s Daylight Twilight alternative high school and was active in dance and cheerleading. She was an unintended target in an ongoing feud between warring factions from the city’s Wilbur section and Jersey Street, prosecutors previously said.
Pool attorney Bruce L. Throckmorton represented Charles in the five-week-long murder trial. He could not be reached for comment at his law offices on Friday.
Charles was being held on $750,000 cash bail at the Mercer County Correction Center. He has a violent juvenile history and was previously being held at the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center prior to being waived up to adult court.
Court records show Charles got charged in March with third-degree cocaine possession for being in alleged possession of the illicit substance at the county jail last June.
But the drug case is the least of his worries now that Charles is looking at decades upon decades of prison time for shooting up a minivan that had seven occupants, killing one of them.
“These were teenagers,” Scott said of the victims. “These were young kids that were shot at, and none of them are gangbangers. They’re just kids. Something over some stupid neighborhood thing turned into an absolute tragedy.”