Not guilty plea in Irvington slayings

September 17, 2008 8:19:00 PM PDT
A man charged with murdering four people found in a burning house in Irvington last week pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Attorneys for Rolando Terrell entered the plea during a brief appearance before state Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle.

Terrell, 36, who surrendered to police on Saturday, is charged with fatally shooting four women in a house on the Irvington-Newark border last Monday, then setting the house on fire to cover up the crime. He faces weapons charges in addition to the four murder counts.

A second man, 46-year-old Lester Hayes, has been charged with four counts of robbery.

Authorities believe Terrell fired the shots that killed Candes McLean, 40, who rented the apartment where the killings occurred; her 18-year-old daughter, Talia; stepdaughter Latrisha Fields-Carruthers, 13, and 18-year-old niece Zakiyyah Jones.

Michael Robbins, an attorney representing Terrell, said his client was innocent and said he had filed a motion to have prosecutors disclose what evidence led them to file charges.

"Mr. Terrell was not there," Robbins said. "He didn't do this. He wasn't on the run and he didn't leave town. Within hours of them issuing an arrest warrant, we were arranging to have him walk in the door."

Investigators have said the killings were drug- and possibly gang-related. Terrell's criminal record dates back to 1999 and includes prison sentences for robbery, drug and weapons charges. He was incarcerated from January 2001 to last April.

Candes McLean lived at the Irvington home with Talia McLean and Fields-Carruthers. Jones lived in Newark, according to Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow.

Robbins said Terrell was a longtime friend of Candes McLean's boyfriend, Michael Fields, who is the father of Latrisha Fields-Carruthers.

"It's inconceivable, given that relationship, that he'd be involved in this terrible crime," Robbins said.

Authorities have said a fifth woman, whom police have not identified, survived the attack and fled the home carrying Talia McLean's 14-month-old son. The toddler was unharmed and was placed with relatives.

Neighbors said they heard an argument and gunshots before the fire broke out at about 7:30 a.m. Three people living on the second floor and a man living on the third floor escaped the fire uninjured.

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