Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino today announced that Rodolfo Godinez, 27, of Newark has been sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus twenty years – a total of 245 years — for the schoolyard murders of Iofemi Hightower, 20, Dashon Harvey, 20, Terrance Aeriel, 18, and the attempted murder of Natasha Aeriel, now 22.
Sentence was imposed by the Honorable Michael Ravin, a judge of the Superior Court, sitting in Newark. Under New Jersey sentencing laws, Godinez would likely serve more than 216 years in prison before he is eligible for parole for his role in the Aug. 4, 2007 triple homicide, Judge Ravin said. Life in prison is 75 years.
Acting Prosecutor Laurino said, “Today Rodolfo Godinez had his first taste of true justice. His sentence of over two centuries in state prison is fitting for the horrific crime that he committed but that dose of justice is bittersweet to the Harvey, Hightower and Aeriel families. No sentence can ever bring back their loved ones. Our hearts remain with them.’’
Acting Prosecutor Laurino vowed to continue to seek justice in the remaining cases.
“Let it be clear. Our resolve remains great. We are committed to seeing this case through to its conclusion when all defendants receive what is justly due them,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Laurino.
Following a 22-day trial, on May 24, 2010 a jury convicted Godinez on all 17 counts, including murder, felony murder, attempted murder, robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and weapons charges.
At trial, the state argued that Godinez was the ringleader in the group of young men who attacked the Delaware State University students are they gathered on an August night to listen to music and talk. All four of the victims were shot. Two were attacked with a machete. One was sexually assaulted.
Prior to sentencing, Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo urged Judge Ravin to impose the maximum sentence for what he described as “a heinous and outrageous crime.’’ He said Godinez watched the victims and knew they were vulnerable.
“He knew they were soft targets. He knew they were defenseless,’’ said Sukhdeo.
Godinez is the first of six defendants to be tried. Five other defendants are awaiting trial.
Jose Carranza, 31, of Newark
Melvin Jovel, 21, of Elizabeth
Gerardo Gomez, 17, of Newark
Shahid Baskerville, 18, of Morristown
Alexander Alfaro, 19, of Newark (He is the brother of Godinez)
The trial for either Carranza or Jovel could begin as early as late September, according Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue, who was the lead prosecutor in the case against Godinez.
The three defendants who were juveniles at the time of the crime – Gomez, Baskerville, and Alfaro – cannot be tried until after pretrial issues are settled. They have cases pending in the Appellate Division of Superior Court, according to Assistant Prosecutor Sukhdeo.