Masiyah Howard’s murder trial approaches in brazen 2013 Chambersburg slaying

Alleged killer Masiyah Howard will soon have his day in court.

Howard’s murder trial is scheduled to begin 10 a.m. May 4 at the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse before Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson.

Howard, 21, of Trenton, is accused of shooting and killing 25-year-old Louis Bryan Alvarez in the city’s Chambersburg neighborhood on Feb. 26, 2013. Police arrested him days later on unrelated robbery charges and then gained probable cause to charge him with murder and weapons offenses.

The homicide victim was a Guatemalan native who worked in Trenton and lived on Fulton Street. On the night of the slaying, Howard went to Alvarez’s residence to confront him and then fired a shot through a glass window after the victim had slammed the door shut about 9:50 p.m., police alleged.

Louis Bryan Alvarez

Louis Bryan Alvarez

Trenton cops arrived on scene to find Alvarez unresponsive, suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso. Medics rushed Alvarez to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, where he died about an hour later.

Police say Howard committed two separate robberies in February 2013 leading up to his alleged fatal gunplay that month. He is accused of robbing a Trenton deli and robbing another man. Police arrested him on March 2, 2013, first charging him with the robbery counts and then hammering him with murder charges.

Howard was 17 at the time of his arrest but is being tried as an adult.

Defense attorney Steven Lember is representing Howard; Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Heather Hadley is trying the case for the state.

Five indicted in Lyft murder of Amber Dudley

Amber Dudley

Amber Dudley

Five people were indicted last week in the murder of 27-year-old Amber Dudley, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said on Wednesday. Read more

Trenton teen waived up as adult in Lance Beckett slaying case

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

Lance Beckett (Facebook photo)

On Friday, a 17-year-old was waived up as an adult in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Lance Beckett.
Beckett was shot and killed on September 18, 2016 on East Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton.

Mada Eoff, 17, appeared via telephone from the Juvenile Detention Center in Middlesex County, at an initial appearance where assistant prosecutor William Fisher advised the court the State has filed for a detention hearing to have him held under the state’s new criminal justice reform rules.

Fisher advised the court that by statute there is a presumption of detention in this case.

Eoff was arrested in September of last year along with 18-year-old Quashawn Emanuel, both are Trenton residents.

The teens were pair was charged with murder, possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The teens are part of a trio that allegedly shot Beckett before stomping on his head. Also arrested in the case was 34-year-old Omar Kennedy who is accused of stomping Beckett after he’d been shot down. At an October 27, 2016, assistant prosecutor Tim Ward said that Kennedy stomped on Beckett’s head “to ensure he was dead,” while he bled out in a wooded area near East Stuyvesant Avenue.
Four shots were fired, but it’s not clear who fired the fatal shot, however.

Eoff’s hearing is set for April 11 in front of Judge Peter Warshaw.

At Friday’s hearing the teen’s attorney entered a plea of not guilty, and asked for any and all discovery to adequately defend the teen at his detention hearing.

Alleged Lyft murder gunman: Detaining me without bail means I may lose my home

Ronderrick Manuel

Ronderrick Manuel

The fourth defendant arrested and charged in connection with last year’s Lyft rideshare murder has such an extensive history of failing to appear in court and such high New Jersey public safety risk assessment scores that a judge easily ordered him to remain incarcerated at the Mercer County jail without bail.

Hauled into a courtroom in his orange jumpsuit, Ronderrick Manuel, 43, of Trenton, appeared at his detention hearing Tuesday and attempted to portray himself as a hardworking man who would potentially lose his Chambersburg home if placed on pretrial detention.

Manuel, through his public defender Nicole Carlo, said he works two area jobs allowing him to afford his housing expenses and suggested he would be happy to be released on home detention and electronic ankle bracelet monitoring.

Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw, however, said Manuel’s willingness to submit to electronic monitoring is “not sufficient” to warrant his release. “This is a serious, serious criminal history,” he said of Manuel’s record.

A regional U.S. Marshals task force arrested Manuel on Sunday, March, 26, on allegations he shot and killed Lyft rideshare passenger Amber Dudley, 27, of Collingswood, last November in a grisly robbery-turned-murder in Trenton.

The three other defendants in the case — 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 on Nov. 30, 2016.

The state filed its detention motion against Manuel on the grounds that the defendant had very high risk assessment scores under New Jersey’s automated Public Safety Assessment or PSA that ranks the potential risk of a defendant failing to appear in court and the risk of a defendant committing new criminal activity and violence.

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Grillo cited Manuel’s high PSA scores and noted that the murder charges against the defendant means “this is a case where there is a presumption of detention.”

To be released pretrial, Manuel would have needed to provide the judge with a very convincing rebuttal to the state’s motion and PSA recommendation calling for his detention.

Carlo, Manuel’s public defender, argued her client “does not present a flight risk” and said Manuel has ties to the community through his family and through his home ownership on the 100 block of Anderson Street and his employment at a halal meat market and wireless gadgets shop.

But Warshaw reviewed Manuel’s record and found the defendant had one failure to appear in the last two years and 11 failures to appear in court from 2002 to 2012 and that Manuel has previously served time in prison on serious charges.

Manuel committed statutory rape in another state and a couple of burglaries in the 1990s, according to records Warshaw read in court. The statutory rape conviction requires Manuel to register as a sex offender, but Warshaw said Manuel has a history of failing to comply with the registration requirement.

By having very high risk assessment scores, Warshaw said that “obviously demonstrates in and of itself compelling evidence” for why it was appropriate and fitting for Manuel to be indefinitely incarcerated at the Mercer County Correction Center without bail pending final resolution of his murder case that could end with an acquittal, conviction, plea deal or dismissal of all charges.

As such, Warshaw signed the detention order but said Manuel has the right to appeal the decision.

Manuel has a pre-indictment conference scheduled for Monday, May 8, before Superior Court Judge Robert Bingham II.

Suspended driver charged with striking, killing Trenton crossing guard appears in court

The suspended driver accused of striking and killing a Trenton crossing guard last year in a high-profile case of vehicular homicide appeared in court Monday for a post-indictment arraignment.

The legal proceeding lasted less than two minutes as defense attorney Kristy L. Bruce from the Hamilton-based Rubinstein Law Firm represented Duane Bennett at his arraignment.

“We waive the formal reading of the arraignment,” Bruce said, utilizing a procedural step that avoided the drama of Bennett’s charges being recited before the court.

Duane Bennett

Duane Bennett

A grand jury last month indicted Bennett, 43, of Upper Freehold, on one count of second-degree death by auto and one count of third-degree unlicensed driver causing death to another in connection with the death of Antonio Wiley, 56, on April 18, 2016, at the Route 129 and Lalor Street intersection.

Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Brown asked whether the state has offered any initial plea deals to Bennett, who could serve up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the death by auto charge.

Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor James Scott said the state had not yet presented Bennett with a plea bargain, adding, “I found out that this was assigned to me on Friday, so I have not had an opportunity to meet with the victim’s family, but I will extend it for the next status conference.”

The judge scheduled a status conference for May 15.

Alleged gunman in Lyft murder misses court appearance due to illness

The fourth defendant to be arrested and charged in connection with last year’s murder of Amber Dudley did not appear in court Thursday for his scheduled detention hearing.

Ronderrick Manuel, 45, of Trenton, waived his court appearance on Thursday due to illness, according to his public defender Nicole Carlo.

Ronderrick Manuel

Ronderrick Manuel

Prosecutors are seeking to keep Manuel locked up without bail at the Mercer County jail on allegations he shot and killed Lyft rideshare passenger Amber Dudley last November in a grisly robbery-turned-murder. But prosecutors, instead of explaining why they want Manuel to be detained indefinitely pretrial, said nothing of substance at Manuel’s hearing on Thursday.

Prosecutors signaled they were not prepared to proceed with the detention hearing on Thursday, so a judge postponed the hearing to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 4, before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw.

While Manuel did not appear in court on Thursday, he apparently did make an initial court appearance earlier this week via video link. However, neither the press nor the general public was permitted to attend that initial arraignment on Tuesday due to the courtroom’s doors being locked in error, according to New Jersey Judiciary spokesman Pete McAleer. The legal proceeding, known as a CJP or Central Judicial Processing hearing, was supposed to be conducted in open court, not under the cloak of secrecy.

Manuel is the latest 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.

Police arrested Manuel last week on allegations he burglarized a Ewing property and re-arrested him on Sunday night to face charges of murder, robbery and weapons offenses.

When Manuel finally has his detention hearing, prosecutors will likely argue he is a flight risk and too dangerous to the public to be released on any conditions. Manuel’s previous criminal history may also be cited at the hearing as well as his actual age.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office originally said Manuel was born on Dec. 17, 1973, but court records indicate he was born on Dec. 17, 1971.

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