Alexander Alfaro's testimony, in the fifth week of his murder trial, contradicted earlier testimony by Newark Police Det. Kevin Green, a cousin of Alfaro's and even Alfaro himself, who was heard on audiotape admitting to slashing one of the victims with a machete before they were shot execution-style.
Alfaro was arrested in Virginia two weeks after the Aug. 4, 2007, slayings that shocked a city already plagued by gun violence.
He and five others were charged with murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses.
Green testified last week that after Alfaro's arrest but before he sat down for a taped, two-hour interview with detectives, he and the defendant spent a few hours waiting at a juvenile detention facility while the then-16-year-old Alfaro's mother was driven from New Jersey.
Green testified he didn't speak about the case with Alfaro, an assertion Alfaro denied Monday.
"'He told me if I wanted to save myself and not be made out to be some monster, I needed to say what he told me," Alfaro said.
His choice, Alfaro said, was to finger one of three men as the shooter since that would jibe with what his co-defendants had told authorities. Alfaro said he chose 28-year-old Jose Carranza because Carranza was the only one of the six who was not a member of MS-13, the violent street gang that Alfaro said he joined earlier in the 2007.
The other two were Melvin Jovel and Rodolfo Godinez, Alfaro's half-brother. Alfaro testified that he was afraid to implicate either one but particularly the then-24-year-old Godinez, a high-ranking MS-13 member who had recruited him.
"I was scared of my brother," he told defense attorney Raymond Morasse.
Godinez called Alfaro that night and told him to bring a machete to the scene along with cousin Gerardo Gomez, friend Shahid Baskerville and Carranza, Alfaro said. The four victims - one was slashed and shot but survived and testified against Alfaro - were robbed, then three were marched down a set of stairs behind Newark's Mount Vernon School and shot.
On his audiotaped statement, Alfaro told police he slashed Iofemi Hightower "a few times" before Godinez told Carranza to shoot all three. What really happened, Alfaro claimed Monday, was that Godinez and Jovel dragged him and the 15-year-old Gomez down the stairs and had them watch as Godinez slashed Hightower before Jovel shot her, Terrance Aeriel and Dashon Harvey in the back of the head.
The three, friends since high school, were weeks away from attending Delaware State University.
Alfaro also testified Green told him to say Gomez had a .32-caliber gun with him that night, even though Alfaro never saw the gun.
"Detective Green gave me two options," Alfaro said. "Either I had the machete and cut the girl and Gerardo had gun, or Gerardo had the machete and I had the gun. Gerardo didn't have a gun. I was just going along with what he wanted me to say."
On cross-examination, Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Thomas McTigue hammered away at Alfaro's contention that he was too scared to go to authorities or simply run away. He showed Alfaro an autopsy picture of Hightower's injuries and a crime-scene photo of the three victims lying in a pool of blood. He pointed out that Alfaro implicated Godinez in his taped statement, even though he now professed to be afraid of him.
The prosecutor ended his cross by showing an earlier picture of Alfaro, Gomez and Baskerville at the playground in which all three are smiling and Gomez and Baskerville are flashing gang signs.
"Did Rodolfo Godinez take this picture?" McTigue asked.
"Yes," he responded.
"Did he force you?" McTigue continued.
"No," he said.
McTigue is expected to recall Green to the stand on Tuesday as a rebuttal witness.
Godinez and Jovel are both serving consecutive life sentences for the crimes. Three other defendants are in jail awaiting trial.