By Aman Ali
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A former gang member was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for the 2007 schoolyard murders of three college-bound students, one of whom he hacked at with a machete before shooting her.
Alexander Alfaro, 20, remained silent as Judge Michael Ravin acted out the crime in Essex County Superior Court, slashing the air with his hands to demonstrate the brutal machete attack.
Pounding his fist on his desk, the judge told Alfaro that given the nature of the crime, he "would never see the light of day" outside of a prison. He sentenced Alfaro to life behind bars.
"The barbarity of this crime merits paramount weight," the judge said. "Absolute, crushing weight."
Alfaro was 16 and one of six members of the violent MS-13 street gang accused of robbing and attacking four students on a playground in August 2007. Dashon Harvey, Terrance Aeriel and Iofemi Hightower were shot to death execution style in the attack less than a month before they were to begin classes at Delaware State University. The fourth victim, Natasha Aeriel, was wounded in the attack but survived.
The grisly crime drew a national spotlight to Newark as a city gripped by gang violence. It also heightened awareness of Newark's gun problem and prompted anti-violence efforts in the city.
The judge acted out the brutal crime that a jury last month convicted Alfaro of committing.
"The force the defendant used to hack her skull (was so strong) that the blade was embedded in her skull," Ravin said while pretending to tug on an imaginary machete. "He then had to pry the blade out."
At his trial, Alfaro testified that he was a victim himself of the violent gang culture, which was to blame for his actions.
At the sentencing, several of the victims' family members addressed Alfaro directly, including Hightower's mother Shalga, who said seeing Alfaro was like "looking at the face of Satan himself."
"You're not fooling anyone with your innocent looking mask," Shalga Hightower said. "Because underneath, you are a monster. You are an evil person and a cold blooded killer that has shown no compassion for what you have done."
Alfaro was the second man to stand trial in the case. His half-brother, Rodolfo Godinez, was convicted of the murders last year and a third man, Melvin Jovel, pleaded guilty to the murders. They are serving life terms in prison.
Three other men charged in the case await trial.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)