No verdict in NJ man's schoolyard murder trial

AP News
Posted: Apr 01, 2011 6:49 PM
No verdict in NJ man's schoolyard murder trial

Jurors reheard testimony Friday from the survivor of a shooting that left three college students dead in 2007, but they finished their first full day of deliberations without reaching a verdict in the trial of one of six people charged with the vicious schoolyard attack.

Alexander Alfaro faces 17 counts including murder, felony murder and robbery. His trial began on March 1.

The jury requested and was reread the survivor's testimony, which described the six suspects as "circling" the four friends and demanding that they lie on the ground and give up their valuables. The testimony could be crucial for the prosecution, which contends Alfaro played a part in the robbery that preceded the execution-style slayings.

If jurors decide Alfaro participated in the robbery, they could find him guilty of felony murder since the murders occurred as an extension of the robbery.

Alfaro said he watched the robbery but didn't take part. He initially admitted to police that he slashed one of the victims with the machete before she and the others were shot. But on the witness stand, he denied doing it and said he was pressured by a detective to change his statement to conform to what other defendants had already told police.

Alfaro also testified that he was coerced into bringing the machete to the Mount Vernon School playground on Aug. 4, 2007, by half brother Rodolfo Godinez, a high-ranking member of the violent MS-13 street gang.

Alfaro admitted joining the gang several months before the crimes but testified Godinez told him to bring the weapon or Godinez would "use it on him" because there were "rivals" at the playground, which Alfaro took to mean rival gang members.

Victims Iofemi Hightower, Dashon Harvey and Terrance "T.J." Aeriel were friends from Newark who were already attending or planning to attend Delaware State University in the fall. The slayings made national headlines and spurred action on numerous anti-crime measures in Newark, such as surveillance cameras in high-crime neighborhoods.

The survivor isn't being identified by The Associated Press because of sexual assault charges against two other defendants.

Godinez and another man are serving consecutive life sentences for the crimes, and three cases are pending.

Jurors will resume deliberations Monday.