A day after a young woman described being slashed by a machete in a schoolyard while three friends were fatally shot nearby, jurors were shown the knife Thursday and were given details of the curious path that landed it in the hands of investigators.
Prosecutors contend the rusty, 15-inch-long machete was used by defendant Alexander Alfaro to slash two of the four college-bound friends who had met to listen to music and hang out in the Mount Vernon School playground on the night of Aug. 4, 2007. The survivor isn't being named by The Associated Press because of sexual assault charges against two other defendants.
Alfaro, among six defendants in the case, faces 17 counts including murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses. He's not believed to have participated in the execution-style shootings of Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20, and Terrance Aeriel, 18.
Melvin Jovel, who confessed to being the shooter, and Rodolfo Godinez, convicted last year, are serving multiple life sentences for the crimes.
Connecting Alfaro to the machete will have to wait until at least next week when the trial resumes and possibly longer. Forensic evidence doesn't tie him to it, and the survivor was unable to identify him as her attacker or even as being present that night at the playground in Newark, the state's biggest city and historically one of its deadliest. Instead, prosecutors are likely to rely heavily on videotaped statements made by Alfaro after his arrest in Virginia two weeks after the murders.
In a March 2009 hearing to determine whether Alfaro's statements were made voluntarily, a Newark detective testified that the then-16-year-old was eager to "tell my side of the story."
Alfaro was arrested around the same time Godinez, his half-brother, was arrested in Maryland. It was revealed at the same hearing that another juvenile defendant, Shahid Baskerville, gave police information that helped lead to Alfaro's arrest.
The machete wasn't discovered until six days after the murders, during a nighttime memorial service at the playground and under murky circumstances. Newark police Capt. Derek Glenn testified Thursday that two people came up to him and told him that they had seen a knife lying on the ground near several television trucks gathered to film the memorial.
Glenn discovered the machete between two trucks, about 50 yards from where the four friends were attacked and in a spot where crime scene investigators couldn't have missed it in the hours following the killings. Glenn said he didn't ask for the names of the two men who told him where to look for the knife and couldn't remember what they looked like.
"So as we sit here today, it's fair to say we'll never know who those individuals were?" defense attorney Raymond Morasse asked on cross-examination.
"True," Glenn responded.
Alfaro lived with Godinez about two blocks from the school. Five of the six defendants had addresses listed in that neighborhood. A cousin, then-15-year-old Gerardo Gomez, was arrested four days after the murders, and Peruvian illegal immigrant Jose Carranza, then 28, turned himself in the next day. Baskerville was arrested in Morristown the day after that.
Each of the defendants, including Jovel and Godinez, initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Trials for Gomez, Carranza and Baskerville haven't been scheduled.