(Reuters) - A Washington state man pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of murdering a college student in New Jersey in an act of "vengeance" for U.S. military action in the Middle East.
Ali Muhammad Brown, 30, is charged with shooting to death 19-year-old Brendan Tevlin as he stopped at a traffic light in West Orange, New Jersey, not far from his family's home in Livingston, said Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
The murder case marks the first time prosecutors in New Jersey have used state terrorism charges, she said. The charge was brought after permission was granted by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Carter said.
The June 2014 shooting is among four murders Brown confessed to committing, including three in Washington state, as "vengeance" for U.S. military action overseas, according to court documents.
Describing himself as a strict Muslim, he told investigators that his four male victims represented "a life for a life" for "Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, all these places where innocent lives are being taken every single day," court documents said.
At his arraignment in state Superior Court in Newark on Tuesday, Brown pleaded not guilty to nine charges stemming from the death of Tevlin, who was home for summer vacation after completing his freshman year at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Brown is being held on $5 million bail at New Jersey's Essex County Correctional Facility, Carter said.
He faces 30 years to life if he is convicted of the most serious charge of murder, Carter said. That sentence could be increased to life without parole if Brown also is convicted of the state terrorism charge.
Brown's lawyer, Albert Kapin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Eric Beech)