Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced today that the Honorable Michael L. Ravin, J.S.C., sentenced Gerardo Gomez, 20, of Newark to 195 years in New Jersey state prison for his role in the 2007 triple murder of three Delaware State University students at the Mount Vernon schoolyard in Newark.
The sentencing brings to a close one of the most notorious murder cases in Essex County history. Three young college students were killed on a warm August night. A fourth was shot but survived.
“For more than five years, Natasha Aeriel, the lone survivor, and the parents of these promising young people who were murdered senselessly, have had to live and re-live what occurred in that schoolyard on Aug. 4, 2007. With dignity and strength, they came to court time and time again to do their part to ensure that justice was done. Today, we close the book on this chapter of an extremely long and painful journey for them,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Murray.
“I know Natasha, the Harveys, the Hightowers and the Aeriel family still have a lot of tough days a head. Now that the criminal proceedings are behind them, I wish I could tell them that it will be easier. I’m not sure that is true, but I hope that the extraordinary work done by Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue and Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo, our detectives, victim witness advocates and all those who played a part in the successful resolution of this case, will give them some comfort.’’
Gomez is the youngest and the last of six defendants in the case to either be convicted or to plead guilty to charges in the brutal murders of three of four college-age friends who were shot after being robbed while listening to music in the schoolyard of the Mount Vernon Elementary School in the city’s Ivy Hill Section.
Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20, were murdered. Hightower was brutally slashed with a machete prior to being murdered. Natasha Aeriel, now 24, was shot and attacked with a machete, but survived.
On the night of his 15th birthday, Aug. 4, 2007, Gomez along with five other men and boys robbed the four friends using a handgun, machete, and kitchen knife. Three of the victims—Harvey, Hightower and Terrance Aeriel—were taken to a separate part of the school yard, lined up against a wall, and were each fatally shot in the head.
Today Judge Ravin sentenced Gomez, who was convicted of murder, felony murder, conspiracy and robbery to 195 years in state prison. He must serve 165 years before he is eligible for parole. Gomez was arrested shortly after the crimes occurred and has been incarcerated ever since.
After the sentencing, Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue, who has handled the prosecution of all six defendants, along with Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo, said, “My goal throughout this entire process has been to bring a measure of justice to these families. With the Gomez sentencing today, it is our hope that they can begin to rebuild their lives. It will be difficult but Natasha and the surviving family members are extraordinary people.”
Assistant Prosecutor Sukhdeo said, “This was a horrific case and it was a privilege for me to have played a part in getting justice for these families. Together these six defendants have been sentenced to more than 1,000 years in prison for committing one of the most heinous crimes known to Essex County.’’
In addition to Gomez, the other defendants in the case included:
•Rodolfo Godinez, 29, of Newark directed the others in the gang-related murders. An immigrant of Nicaragua and alleged leader of MS-13, a violent Central American street gang operating in Newark, Godinez was the first defendant to be convicted. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in July 2010 for his role in the attack and to 20 years for the attempted murder of Natasha Aeriel. In total, Judge Ravin sentenced Godinez to 245 years. His earliest parole will be in 216 years.
•Melvin Jovel, 23, of Newark pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and weapons charges in September 2010 for shooting all four victims with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun. Judge Ravin sentenced Jovel to 245 years.
•Alexander Alfaro, 22, of Newark was 16 years old at the time of the murders. He was convicted by a jury in April 2011 on 16 or 17 counts, including three counts of murder. Alfaro, who wielded the 14-inch machete during the attacks, slashed Hightower in the head, back and hand before she was shot. The half-brother of Godinez, he was sentenced to 212 years in state prison and must serve 180 years before he is eligible for parole.
•Jose Carranza, 33, of Newark was convicted by an Essex County jury of three counts of murder. In March 2012, Judge Ravin sentenced him to 155 years. Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru, is not eligible for parole for 107 years.
•Shahid Baskerville, 21, of Morristown was 15 years old at the time of the murders. He pleaded guilty in December 2011 to conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery and aggravated sexual contact. Baskerville is the only defendant to apologize to the families at sentencing for his role in the crime. Baskerville, who grew up in Newark and was a childhood friend of Alfaro and Gomez, was sentenced by Judge Ravin 30 years on Dec. 13, 2012. He will be under lifetime parole supervision when he is released from prison.
Prosecutor Murray commended the Newark and ECPO detectives for their extraordinary work on this case. Countless detectives worked tirelessly on the case. She specifically noted the outstanding work done by ECPO Detective Kevin Green and Newark Detective Lydell James. She also mentioned the forensic work done by now retired ECPO Detective Michael Bozsolac; and Melissa Johns and Matthews Woods at the New Jersey State Police laboratory in Hamilton. The Prosecutor further lauded the excellent work done by Victim-Witness Advocates Jason Delpeche and Leslie Weiss.