Prosecutors want latest Lyft murder defendant to be jailed without bail

Ronderrick Manuel

Ronderrick Manuel

Prosecutors are seeking to keep Ronderrick Manuel locked up without bail at the Mercer County jail on allegations he shot and killed Lyft rideshare passenger Amber Dudley last fall in a grisly robbery-turned-murder.

Prosecutors have filed the motion for pretrial detention earlier this week when Manuel, 43, of Trenton, made his first court appearance Tuesday via video link. He was arrested last week on allegations he burglarized a Ewing property and re-arrested Sunday night to face charges of murder, robbery and weapons offenses.

Manuel is the fourth defendant to be arrested in connection with the murder of Dudley, 27, of Collingswood. The other defendants — Andrew Alston, Kasey Dezolt and Dominique Richter — have been charged with accomplice liability murder while Manuel is being prosecuted as the alleged principal gunman responsible for Dudley’s violent death in Trenton on Nov. 30, 2016.

Neither the press nor the general public was permitted to attend Manuel’s initial arraignment on Tuesday due to the courtroom’s doors being locked in error, according to New Jersey Judiciary spokesman Pete McAleer.

Under New Jersey’s bail reform procedures that went into effect on Jan. 1, newly arrested defendants are supposed to be provided with a first court appearance within 48 hours. Mercer County’s first court appearance arraignments — called CJP or Central Judicial Processing hearings — are supposed to be open to the public either in the actual courtroom or through the state’s online Virtual Court.

Manuel’s first court appearance on Tuesday was not streamed live on the Virtual Court. Thus, the courtroom’s doors being locked in error had the real effect of preventing the general public from observing Manuel’s legal proceeding — a proceeding that was supposed to be conducted in open court, not under the cloak of secrecy.

Homicide Watch Trenton has belatedly learned that a judge scheduled Manuel’s detention hearing to be held Thursday afternoon at Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw’s courtroom. That hearing will decide whether Manuel remains incarcerated without bail or if he is released with conditions.

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.

Cops make fourth arrest in fatal Lyft robbery

Ronderrick Manuel

Ronderrick Manuel

A man who was arrested last week on burglary offenses is now facing murder charges accusing him of being the gunman who shot and killed Amber Dudley during last November’s fatal Lyft robbery in the capital city. Read more

Convicted robber sent text message claiming he gunned down Trenton rapper Jafar Lewis

When police were investigating a brutal August 2013 murder in North Trenton, a man who had previously served time in state prison for robbery and selling drugs sent a text message claiming he was the gunman responsible for the slaying.

“I just shot and killed somebody,” Dalord Dumas wrote in a text message that he sent to a friend on Aug. 23, 2013, the same night that Trenton hip-hop lyricist Jafar “Young Farr” Lewis was fatally gunned down. Read more

Convicted sex offender gets 13 years for killing Trenton man

David Noncent

David Noncent

The convicted sex offender who fatally stabbed 26-year-old Trenton man Courtney Levine on Dec. 4, 2012, has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison.

David Noncent, 45, who previously pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated manslaughter, received the prison sentence last Thursday at the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse before Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw. He must serve 85 percent of his sentence behind bars before he can become eligible for parole under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act. Read more

Prosecutors: Man found dead on Cleveland Avenue being investigated as homicide

Police investigate on Cleveland Ave in Trenton where some teens found a man dead late Thursday night.  Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman - The Trentonian

Police investigate on Cleveland Ave in Trenton where some teens found a man dead late Thursday night.
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman - The Trentonian

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has identified a man who was found shot to death on Cleveland Avenue Thursday evening. Read more

Prosecutors: Upper Freehold man who struck and killed crossing guard in Trenton indicted last week

Prosecutors indicted Duane Bennett, 43, of Upper Freehold, last week in connection with the death of 56-year-old crossing guard Antonio Wiley on April 18, 2016 at the Route 129 and Lalor Street intersection.

Duane Bennett

Duane Bennett

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said Bennett was indicted on one count of second-degree death by auto and one count of third-degree unlicensed driver causing death to another. At the time of the crash Bennett was only charged with a summons and was not held. The indictment added the second-degree death by auto count, the prosecutor’s office said.

Bennett, who has had his license suspended 23 times, was driving while his license was indefinitely suspended for failure to comply with a court order and non-payment of surcharges. Since obtaining a license the 43-year-old has racked up 19 driving violations. Read more

Wayne Bush murder trial judge: Oops, my ‘snap judgment’ was probably wrong

A woman who witnessed the August 2013 shooting death of her hip-hop lyricist fiancé Jafar “Young Farr” Lewis probably should not have been questioned over her previous credit card fraud plea deal when she testified last week at Wayne Bush’s murder trial. Read more

Fiancée of slain Trenton rapper ‘Young Farr’ testifies at murder trial

The fiancée of slain hip-hop artist Jafar “Young Farr” Lewis witnessed her man get shot and killed more than three years ago but still remembers the vivid details as if it happened yesterday.

Testifying under oath Thursday at Wayne Bush’s murder trial, Twanna Robinson said she was sitting in the passenger’s seat of her Infiniti FX45 on the night of Aug. 23, 2013, and saw Bush raise his arm toward Lewis and “immediately heard two gunshots.” Read more

Wayne Bush’s murder trial begins in shooting death of Trenton rapper

Wayne Bush

Wayne Bush

Wayne Bush’s long-awaited murder trial kicked off Wednesday with the prosecution accusing him of being the gunman who shot and killed a local hip-hop artist. Read more