One of six people charged in the 2007 murders of three college-bound young people at a playground described the attack in chilling detail on a tape played for jurors Wednesday, including the order he got from another suspect to slash the victims with a machete.
The taped statement from Alexander Alfaro, who said his half-brother called him to come to the playground that night with the machete, was the most detailed description yet of the crime that made national headlines and prompted numerous anti-crime initiatives in New Jersey's largest city.
"My brother tells them to get on the wall, and he looks at me and tells me, `You know what you have to do. You know what's going to happen.' I had to take out the machete and I cut her a couple times."
His words were part of a taped statement played by prosecutors at his trial. Alfaro was a 16-year-old at the time of the murders of Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20, and 18-year-old Terrance "T.J." Aeriel in the playground of Newark's Mount Vernon School on Aug. 4, 2007.
Alfaro is the second of the six men and boys charged with the murders to go to trial. Last spring his half-brother, Rodolfo Godinez, was convicted on all counts, and in the fall, Melvin Jovel pleaded guilty. Both men are serving multiple life sentences. Trials for three other defendants have yet to be scheduled.
The murders shocked a city where gun violence was commonplace, and the resultant publicity was credited with raising awareness and helping push the murder rate down 40 percent, though it has crept back up in the last two years.
Friends and family members of the victims dabbed at tears in the gallery Wednesday as they listened to Alfaro's statement, made after his arrest in Virginia two weeks after the slayings. One remark in particular struck a nerve as Alfaro described the trio's final moments.
A detective asks him whether any of the assailants said anything to the victims before they were each shot in the back of the head as they sat facing a wall.
"There was something said to them before they were shot," Alfaro says. "`Remember the MS-13.'"
MS-13 is the violent street gang that prosecutors contend provided the backdrop for the particularly senseless and savage attack in which two victims were also slashed with a knife and machete. The victims _ including a fourth, a survivor who isn't being named because of sexual assault charges against another defendant _ were headed to Delaware State University in the fall and knew each other from playing in marching bands.
Prosecutors and police steadfastly had refused to classify the case as gang-related for nearly a year after the murders, partly to avoid racial tensions in Newark. The victims are black, and five of the six defendants are Latino.
Jurors listened Wednesday as Alfaro told detectives that Godinez called him from the playground and told him to bring a machete. Alfaro said he found the weapon and went with three others, including Gerardo Gomez, his cousin who had turned 15 that day and who brought a gun that Alfaro said jammed during the attack and wouldn't fire.
Alfaro's version of events supports what the state sought to demonstrate at Godinez's trial; namely, that Godinez was the ringleader who assembled the group and orchestrated the attack.
In his statement, Alfaro describes how, after Godinez saw he wasn't going to kill Hightower with the machete, Godinez told Carranza to shoot all three. That version is at odds with other evidence, specifically Jovel's admission at his guilty plea that he actually shot them.
Alfaro also described being driven from Newark to New York City before returning to Newark. At the same time, police were closing in on the group after first lifting Carranza's prints off a beer bottle at the scene, then arresting Gomez when they found him at an address listed for Carranza.
Carranza, a 28-year-old illegal immigrant from Peru at the time, surrendered five days after the murders.
Shahid Baskerville, whom Alfaro called his "best friend" on the tape, was arrested the following day in Morristown, N.J. Godinez was arrested two weeks after the murders in Maryland, hours before Alfaro's arrest in Virginia. Jovel was the last one to be arrested, in neighboring Elizabeth, N.J., the next day.
Prosecutors are expected to finish playing Alfaro's statement Thursday and then call as a witness an aunt whom Alfaro visited after he returned from New York.