Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino announced today that Rakeem Gartrell was sentenced yesterday to 37 years in state prison for the murder of his former girlfriend Latoya Thomas and her parents.
On Feb. 13, 2008, Gartrell murdered Thomas, 22 of Irvington, the mother of his daughter, and her parents, Leroy Cooper, 66, and Elsie Thomas, 60, as they came to her defense. All of the victims were fatally stabbed multiple times by Gartrell, who was 22 years old at the time and also lived in Irvington.
Afterwards, Gartrell calmly walked with his sister into the Fifth Precinct Station in Newark and stated to police that they were looking for him because of the murders on Arvene Terrace.
Yesterday, the Honorable Peter J. Vazquez, J.S.C, sentenced Gartrell to 37 years. Gartrell must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole under the terms of the plea agreement.
Gartrell was indicted in December 2008. He pled guilty to three counts of first degree murder and weapons charges on Aug. 5, 2010.
Assistant Prosecutor Peter Guarino, who handled the case along with Detective Robert Prachar, said, “Our office consulted with surviving family members at each phase of the proceedings. The heartache the family endured because of the defendant’s actions is indescribable. However, the length of the sentence imposed will ensure that he will not be able to hurt them any further. His daughter will be an adult woman if and when he is ever released from prison. With the love and support of her remaining family, hopefully, Latoya’s daughter will possess, by then, all the skills she needs to deal with this tragedy in her early life.’’
Guarino further noted that the case illustrates the dangers women face when they are victims of domestic violence. Thomas had a restraining order against Gartrell at the time of the fatal attack.
“This case demonstrates that women who are the victims of domestic violence should be ever vigilant and, to some extent, unforgiving of past violence. They should never let their abuser back into their home when they have a restraining order,’’ Guarino added.