Attorney for suspect in Latino man’s murder says detective misidentified client

The two men who beat Julio Cesar Cruz Cruz to death in February 2014 during a robbery wore a green jacket and a black jacket, witnesses told police.

A detective said the witnesses were partially right.

The clothing was a critical point of contention at a pretrial hearing Wednesday for Michael Holman, one of the men who was arrested and charged with Cruz’s murder.

Dante Martin is also charged for his role in the fatal beating. The men have rejected plea offers from prosecutors and may go to trial.

Michael Holman

Michael Holman

Holman’s attorney, Jack Furlong, has challenged on several constitutional grounds whether a statement his client gave police is admissible at trial.

Prosecutors said Holman’s own words, admitting he was in the area of the murder, are incriminating and they want jurors to hear that at trial.

A judge listened to testimony most of Wednesday but has not ruled on the matter and will issue a written decision in the future.Read more

Jamaican man headed to trial for 2013 city murder

A Jamaican man suspected of gunning a 47-year-old city man in 2013 has rejected prosecutors’ plea offers and is expected to be tried later this year.

Judge Pedro Jimenez set Robert Byers’ murder trial down for Oct. 3 of this year. He is accused of fatally shooting construction worker and DJ Devon Hewitt in 2013, then fleeing to Florida where he was arrested by U.S. Marshals.

Byers, of Mott Street, was nabbed in Miami and brought back to New Jersey, where he was indicted on first-degree murder and weapons charges.Read more

Trenton men to go on trial in fall for slaying of 23-year-old city man

Two men suspected of killing 23-year-old Daquan Dowling during a 2012 drive-by shooting that led to the closure of Route 29 are expected to go on trial later this year.

William Mitchell and Andre Romero are being tried together for the murder of Dowling, who was killed instantly after he was struck in the head by a bullet fired by the alleged shooters.

Two other men who were charged in the highway slaying, Anthony Marks and Jamar Square, accepted plea bargains to lesser charges.Read more

Another attorney dips out in murder trial for men accused of killing Army vet

Better Call Saul.

The suspected gunman in the oldest Mercer County has attorney problems, as yet another one ducked out of his homicide case.

Danuweli Keller was dealt another blow Friday, when his new attorney, Thomas Verrastro, asked a judge to be let out of the case, which is scheduled for trial in September.

Judge Robert Billmeier reluctantly allowed Verrastro to withdraw.

“I consider this the eve of trial,” Billmeier said, even though the trial is about three months out.

He indicated he would not put the trial on hold.Read more

Sneakers, witnesses tie city man to Zaire Gibbs murder

All day a Mercer County inmate will be dreaming about his lost sneaker.

Prosecutors said at a bail hearing Thursday for suspected killer Seth Bowers, 21, that a left-footed Adidas sneaker ties him to the murder of Zaire Gibbs, a 25-year-old man who was gunned down last week in the city streets.

Authorities found the shoe on the first block of Washington Street on June 1 and matched it to a right-footed Adidas sneaker discovered at Bowers’ Anderson Street home, not far from the scene of the deadly dustup.

Seth Z. Bowers

Seth Z. Bowers

Bowers turned himself into Trenton Police headquarters on unrelated warrants a day after the shooting. He was charged a day later with Gibbs’ murder. Read more

Defense: Trenton detective looked to ‘nail’ wrong men for Batie murder

Carl Batie and his brother, Karshawn, were leaving the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in the early-morning hours of Nov. 11, 2012.

They stepped out on the deck to get some fresh air, when Carl noticed a familiar face standing on a wooden stoop at the edge of the balcony, gazing over the crowd.

It was Alexis Feliciano, a convicted felon who was turning his life around. Feliciano landed a job as a bouncer at the banquet hall.

Maurice Skillman

Maurice Skillman

Batie, the affable 27-year-old corrections officer from Mercer County, walked over to Feliciano.

They played basketball together in the past and encountered each other at the Mercer County Correction Center in Hopewell, where Feliciano spent time as an inmate.

They chatted about Carl’s dog-breeding business for a few minutes.

Then gunshots rang out, shattering a celebration that brought out more than 200 people to the banquet hall to rejoice over the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Only after the gunshots stopped, and the people ran from the balcony toward the front exit, did the carnage become clear.

“One brother murdered,” Assistant Prosecutor James Scott said. “Another brother affected for the rest of his life.”Read more

Judge won’t dismiss murder charges in Batie slaying, cop testifies about threat

Citing the “powerful” case prosecutors finished putting on Tuesday, a Superior Court judge refused to throw out murder charges against two men suspected of killing off-duty corrections officer Carl Batie in 2012.

Judge Andrew Smithson said a third-party guilt defense offered by suspected triggerman Maurice Skillman was “fanciful.”

Skillman is being tried a second time along with Hykeem “Tex” Tucker after their first trial earlier this year ended in mistrial when a jury couldn’t reach a verdict.

Maurice Skillman

Maurice Skillman

Tucker is accused of acting as a lookout while Skillman fired 22 shots at the packed balcony of the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in the early-morning hours of Nov. 11, 2012.Read more

With bail reform coming, Mercer judge anxious to move murder cases

Anticipating the impact New Jersey’s bail reform will have on currently jailed defendants, a Mercer County judge said he was anxious to get the murder cases of two men to trial before next year.

The men, Donte Jones and Ronald Smith, are each charged with separate slayings.

Jones is charged with fatally shooting 36-year-old Levonza Thompson with a 9mm handgun in the courtyard of the Oakland Park Apartments on the 200 block of Coolidge Avenue on Halloween night 2014. He has so far rejected a plea deal offer that would send him to prison for 33 years.

Donte Jones

Donte Jones

Smith, who is serving an unrelated prison sentence, is accused of killing 27-year-old Kevin Thomas in 2006. He also has so far rejected prosecutors’ plea offer that would require him to spend 27 years in prison for aggravated manslaughter.Read more

Suspected Batie killer to detective: ‘Kiss my black a—’

Hykeem Tucker took a drag from the cigarette a police detective sparked up for him. It was all “bullsh—,” he exclaimed.

Offering to take a lie-detector test, he said the “rats” feeding city police detective Scott Peterson bad information about his alleged involvement in the murder of off-duty corrections officer Carl Batie in 2012 could “kiss my black a—.”

Hykeem Tucker

Hykeem Tucker

“Wherever you go the information … I didn’t kill nobody,” Tucker said. “I’m getting charged with something I didn’t do.”

During an interview with police in January 2013, after he had already been charged, a defiant Tucker repeatedly told detectives he had nothing to do with the murder of the Mercer County corrections officer.
Read more

Trenton detective tells tale of the tapes in Batie murder retrial

Veteran city police detective Scott Peterson believes he has a keen eye for criminals.

But will jurors in the second murder trial of two men suspected of killing off-duty Mercer County corrections officer Carl Batie see what the Trenton Police detective sees on surveillance tapes?

Peterson, the husky homicide investigator, remarked with an air of exactitude during hours of testimony Wednesday that he knows Maurice Skillman and Hykeem Tucker were behind the murder of Batie.

Maurice Skillman

Maurice Skillman

Peterson’s convictions on the stand were steeled from reviewing numerous camera angles that showed the exterior and interior of the Baldassari Regency banquet hall in the early-morning hours of Nov. 11, 2012.

“I continued to watch the video, hours and hours,” he said, noting how his attention was drawn to the man wearing the distinctive varsity jacket.

Read more