Judge declares speedy mistrial in Wayne Bush murder trial over illicit witness testimony

The judge who presided over Wayne Bush’s murder trial abruptly declared a mistrial on Wednesday after a woman gave potentially inflammatory testimony on the witness stand, marking Mercer County’s second murder trial of 2017 to end without a verdict.

“Very reluctantly,” Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier said to the 14 jurors, “I discharge you with the sincerest thanks of all of us — the prosecutor’s office, the defendant and me — for all the sacrifices you’ve made. … Thank you, and you are free to go.”

Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier

Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier

The trial began March 15 and ended exactly two weeks later without the jurors ever getting an opportunity to deliberate.

Prior to calling the jurors into his courtroom and dismissing them for good, Billmeier gave comments from the bench explaining why he was “very reluctantly” declaring a mistrial.

He said Denise Louis, the state’s final witness who testified on Tuesday, did not follow his guidance or the guidance of prosecutors who had clearly warned her about the court’s rules of engagement. Louis was specifically told and reminded of the fact that she was not allowed to tell the jury about a conversation she had heard between Bush and a third party involving the statement, “Somebody is going to catch this.”

But Louis did not play by the rules and “gave the very language that she had been told by the prosecutor not to tell the jury,” Billmeier said. “It was immediate cause for a mistrial.”

Bush, 39, has been incarcerated at the Mercer County Correction Center ever since he surrendered to the authorities on Aug. 30, 2013. He has been charged with murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon on allegations he armed himself with a handgun and shot and killed Trenton hip-hop lyricist Jafar “Young Farr” Lewis, 26, on Aug. 23, 2013.

Wayne Bush

Wayne Bush

John Furlong, Bush’s defense attorney, called for a mistrial following Tuesday’s testimony debacle, and Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor William Fisher consented to Furlong’s request. The fact that both sides supported a motion for retrial made it compelling for Billmeier to grant the request on Wednesday.

Another reason Billmeier cited for declaring a mistrial is the fact that the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division in a March 13 decision affirmed his prior decision to exclude Denise Louis from telling the jurors about the “Somebody is going to catch this” conversation.

The Appellate Division found the statement in question to be “ambiguous” and noted that Louis had “stated she did not understand what was meant by the comment.” The Appellate Division further suggested that the comment “is more prejudicial than probative because of its potential inflammatory nature.”

Try again

Due to Wednesday’s sudden mistrial, a future jury of newly selected jurors will have to decide Bush’s fate.

“Obviously this jury never will have the opportunity to deliberate and obviously never make a decision as to guilt or innocence of the defendant Wayne Bush,” Billmeier said. “Mr. Bush has been incarcerated for more than three and a half years, and he’s entitled to have a second trial start promptly.”

Billmeier has proposed for Bush’s retrial to start on Tuesday, May 30, the day after Memorial Day.

In the meantime, Bush is being held on $100,000 cash only bail, but his defense attorney has asked the court to consider a bail reduction or conditional release from jail pending final resolution of Bush’s pending murder retrial.

Billmeier scheduled an April 11 status conference to discuss how the state intends to proceed and determine whether a bail reduction or a non-monetary conditional release is warranted.

“I give tremendous credit to Judge Billmeier,” Furlong told The Trentonian on Wednesday, “because he had to preside over some very rough water. The state’s case was idiosyncratic, and I am being charitable. It is, I don’t want to say outrageous but very concerning that Wayne Bush is still detained. He is entitled to bail after this episode of trials that found ways to go wrong. As far as I’m concerned, the murder of Jafar Lewis remains unsolved and Wayne Bush and I can’t solve it for them.”

Furlong said he is “exasperated” that the state’s final witness “blew up” the initial trial but looks forward to his client being found not guilty at the forthcoming retrial.

“I will be there when the bell rings for round 2,” he said. “If round 2 is like round 1, the state may want to rethink its prosecution. … No two trials are alike, but I am confident the state’s trial isn’t going to get better. If anything, it is going to get worse.”

Earlier this year, a hung jury’s failure to reach a verdict in the Isiah Greene murder retrial prompted Superior Court Judge Anthony Massi to declare a mistrial in that case on Jan. 31.

Another Mercer County murder trial defendant, Zaire Jackson, was found not guilty by a jury of his peers on Feb. 17, underscoring the difficulty Mercer County prosecutors have had in winning murder trial convictions this year.

Third man in Rayshawn Ransom slaying sentenced to 12 years

A Trenton man who took a plea deal in connection with his involvement in the 2013 slaying of 19-year-old Rayshawn Ransom was sentenced Friday.

Dyquise Leonard had previously pled guilty to one count of attempted murder for which he would be sentenced to 12 years in prison. On Friday a Mercer County Judge imposed the term of 12 years the plea deal called for. Leonard will have to serve 10 years and two months before he is able to be released. He was sentenced concurrently to 5 years on another file.

Rayshawn Ransom

Rayshawn Ransom

“There are certain things that have happened and occurred within my life, and within my family’s life that I can … say ‘Hey, I would like to have justice done today in regards to my son’s life,” Raymond Salter-Ransom, said as he addressed the court. “Because I cannot hug my son, I cannot hold my son, and I can’t look at my son unless I look at pictures … his life was tooken away, my breath was tooken away and so has my wife’s and my other children.”

Ransom asked for justice and demanded the court do what was right.Read more

Jury finds Zaire Jackson not guilty on all counts

Defendant Zaire Jackson listens to testimony at his murder trial in Mercer County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (GREGG SLABODA — The Trentonian)

Defendant Zaire Jackson listens to testimony at his murder trial in Mercer County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (GREGG SLABODA — The Trentonian)

Zaire Jackson breathed a sigh of relief Friday in a Mercer County Court after he was found not guilty on all three counts against him at his homicide trial. The charges were murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose on allegations he knowingly procuring a handgun without a permit.

After the first not guilty was uttered in the court room Jackson’s family reacted out loud despite the judge’s instruction to refrain from doing so. The victim’s family left the courtroom, too overcome to watch the remainder of the proceedings.

Jackson appeared relieved and hugged defense attorney Steven Lember before leaving the court room.
The jury reached its verdict after submitting two questions regarding possession of the weapon. Jurors wrestled with the concept of whether or not Jackson possessed the gun before he was arrested on April 9, 2012. The jury began deliberations on Tuesday.

Despite their struggle, the jury returned the not guilty verdict around 1 p.m. on Friday.
Jackson was accused in the broad daylight killing of  22-year-old Irvin “Swirv” Jackson, Monday, April 9, 2012, on Moses Alley near North Hermitage Avenue in Trenton. Zaire Jackson, who was not related to the victim, was 17 years old at the time of the murder.

The verdict followed a contentious two-week trial where Jackson’s attorney claimed the state’s case was full of holes.
Jackson’s attorney, Steven Lember, said that regardless of the outcome, he still feels for the victim’s family. He added that his client had already done four years in jail while awaiting for trial. He said that in any event this remains a tragedy for both families.

On the verdict, assistant prosecutor Skylar Weissman said, “the jury has spoken. We feel for the family.”
He added that despite the outcome, “a young man is dead.”

Prosecutors: Video shows shooting death of Chambersburg murder victim

Emmanuel Cruz

Emmanuel Cruz

Recently arrested murder suspect Emmanuel Cruz killed Emilio Lopez in cold blood during a 2012 city robbery and the whole shebang was recorded on surveillance footage, authorities alleged. Read more

Third teen charged with 15-year-old’s murder also faces drug charges

A third teenager charged in the murder of a 15-year-old six months ago in the city’s West Ward was arrested for allegedly dealing drugs the week of the killing.

(left to right) Wilson George, Jayshawn Smith and Juprie Wadley

(left to right) Wilson George, Jayshawn Smith and Juprie Wadley

Wilson George, 19, has also been indicted on drug-distribution offenses for allegedly dealing dope in October 2015, according to court records. He faces a number of un-indicted drug charges filed the same week he and two other teens are accused of gunning down Maurice Wimbush-Jalaah, 15, on June 11 in Prospect Village, a Trenton housing complex.Read more

Prosecutors: Guns link suspects to teen’s murder in Prospect Village

A blaze of bullets and shell casings scattered in the street were linked to the murder of 15-year-old city teen found slumped over in the streets, soaked in blood almost exactly six months ago, prosecutors said.

(left to right) Wilson George, Jayshawn Smith and Juprie Wadley

(left to right) Wilson George, Jayshawn Smith and Juprie Wadley

It took detectives time to take in the murderous scene they encountered when they arrived in Prospect Village, in the city’s West Ward, in broad daylight June 11.

The victim, Maurice Wimbush-Jalaah, was fatally shot in a volley of bullets during a gun battle, prosecutors said.

Three city teens, Wilson George, Jashawn Smith and Juprie Wadley, were charged six months later with the teen’s slaying.

Smith and Wadley appeared in court Friday for a bail hearing.Read more

Urging dismissal, attorney for Newark gang member says third trial ‘destined’ for mistrial

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony  from State Police Detective Joseph Itri. Gregg Slaboda - The Trentonian

Shaheed Brown listens to testimony from State Police Detective Joseph Itri. Gregg Slaboda - The Trentonian

Convicting accused killer Shaheed Brown has become a family affair.

Meanwhile, the former Newark gang member continues to fight for his freedom in a case that has plagued Mercer County prosecutors who haven’t convinced juries in two trials six months apart that Brown gunned down 20-year-old Enrico Smalley Jr. outside a crime-ridden Trenton bar in 2014.

Brown’s attorney said in court papers a third trial is “destined” to end the same way.Read more

Convicted killer apologizes for fatal shooting of disabled man

Jaquan Dallas

Jaquan Dallas

It was the knock at the door no mother wants to hear.

Gloria Burke’s landlord stood outside, accompanied by two detectives.

The detectives showed Gloria a picture asked her if she recognized the man in the photo. She said it was her son.

They paused for what seemed like minutes.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the detective said. “Your son was just murdered.”Read more

Admitted Trenton killer now says he didn’t do it

Grady Blue was done being told to shut up and take the deal.

Grady A. Blue III

Grady A. Blue III

In accepting a plea offer earlier this year, Blue III admitted gunning down 23-year-old Naquan Ellis as he was stood with a group of people outside of the North 25 housing complex in June 2014.

He was being sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison for aggravated manslaughter, for the shooting that claimed Ellis and injured another woman.

But Grady told the judge he wanted to take back his guilty plea. He accepted responsibility for a gun charge that called for a concurrent 7 years but not for the “body.”Read more

Trenton man killed city man in 2014 to save his own skin

Curtis Grier was a God-fearing city man who went to church every Sunday. His parents told a judge they raised him to respect the law and his elders. His father is a retired corrections officer and his family is tight with retired Trenton police officers.Curtis Grier

Yet in June 2014, two hours after his family friend clung to life after he was felled by three gunshots, Grier took matters into his own hands, a judge said Thursday at sentencing in Mercer County criminal court.

The judge agreed with Assistant Prosecutor William Fisher’s statement that Grier was a “vigilante.”

“Mr. Grier took it upon himself to arrange a reckoning,” Judge Peter Warshaw said, in handing down a 10-year sentence to the admitted killer. “The tragedy of this case is it didn’t have to occur.”Read more