Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino announced today that a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of Superior Court ruled that the statements given by two juveniles, charged in the August 2007 Newark school yard slaying case, are admissible in court.
Statements made by Shahid Baskerville of Morristown and Alexander Alfaro of Newark immediately following their arrests may be used at trial, the appeals court said.
“We discern no basis to disturb the findings that each juvenile knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to remain silent and to representation by an attorney,” the appeals court said in a 44-page decision released today.
Baskerville and Alfaro, who were 15 and 16 years old at the time of the crime, are being tried as adults. They are charged with the Aug. 4, 2007 triple murder of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower. They are also charged with the attempted murder of Natasha Aeriel, who survived the attack. Baskerville is also charged with aggravated sexual assault.
“The state is pleased with the result,’’ said Assistant Prosecutor Sara A. Friedman who handled the appeal on behalf of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
The key issue on appeal was whether a 2009 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, issued two years after the arrests of Alfaro and Baskerville, applies to their cases. In that case, State in the Interest of PMP, the New Jersey Supreme Court imposed more stringent rules on police officers who question juveniles after a complaint and arrest warrant has been issued by the Prosecutor’s Office. The court essentially said juveniles at that point cannot waive their right to remain silence without legal counsel.
Affirming the decision of the Honorable Michael L. Ravin, J.S.C., the court today held the new law, set forth in State in the Interest of P.M.P., should not be applied retroactively.
“The records at both hearings demonstrate that the law enforcement personnel fully and faithfully complied with and relied on prevailing norms. They should not be penalized by a new rule announced two years later, ’’ the appellate court ruling states.
Moreover, the appeals court said both juveniles were properly given Miranda warnings.
“Although Baskerville and Alfaro gave their statements without counsel, their mothers were present throughout the interviews to provide assistance and a jury will have an opportunity to weigh all the evidence in evaluating their confessions,’’ the appellant court said.
The unsigned Appellate Division opinion was issued by the Honorable Mary Katherine Cuff, Clarkson S. Fisher, Jr. and Douglas Fasciale.
Trials for Baskerville and Alfaro have been on hold awaiting the outcome of the appeal.
Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue, who tried the first school yard slaying case against Rodolfo Godinez, with Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo, said, “We are looking forward to getting these cases back on the trial track as fast as we can.’’
It is anticipated that Judge Ravin will meet with the lawyers involved in the case as early as next week to discuss the scheduling of further proceedings. McTigue plans to ask for a trial date for sometime early next year.
The charges are mere accusations. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.