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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Prosecution allowed to mention gang ties in trial of final defendant in Newark schoolyard killings

16:00 |

What else but gang ties could explain 15-year-old Gerardo Gomez’s motivation to allegedly help rob, brutalize then shoot four strangers behind a Newark schoolyard, a judge said in his lengthy written decision issued Monday. The judge’s ruling grants the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office its motion to present evidence at Gomez’s upcoming murder trial that shows he was a member of the MS-13 gang, and that the triple killing was gang-motivated. Gomez’s defense attorney had objected to the request, maintaining any mention of a gang element would prejudice a jury. In his 44-page decision, Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin in Newark said that Gomez’s alleged gang membership could speak to his state of mind the night of the Aug. 4, 2007, killing. “The bond of a friendship, a classmate, or an acquaintance offers no explanation...on how one could possibly have possessed this egregious motive and state of mind,” Ravin wrote. But gang membership might explain why Gomez, who turned 15 that day, “would obediently follow the command” of a higher-ranking gang member “to rob, kill and maim four non-provoking strangers,” the judge wrote. Four college-aged friends were all shot in the head; only one survived. Gomez, now 20, is the final defendant to face justice. The others — all allegedly connected to MS-13 — have either been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty to the crime, including one who is expected to testify against him. Gomez, whose trial begins early next month, admits his presence at the schoolyard but denies any part in the attack. Responding to the judge’s decision, defense attorney Michael Robbins, said today: “Lady justice wraps Superman’s cape around the accused in the form of the presumption of innocence. To allow misplaced gang evidence into a case like this would be kryptonite that would melt Superman’s cape and cause otherwise fair jurors to disregard the presumption of innocence.” But Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo said the gang component is integral. “Our opinion has always been the schoolyard homicide was an MS-13 event,” he said. “It explains the context of the defendants’ actions and their motivation that night. Gang violence is part of our culture in Newark and we feel it’s relevant. Our burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, so if we want to tell the jury what’s behind the killing, we have to add this in.”

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