5th person convicted in Newark schoolyard murders

February 14, 2012 5:24:50 PM PST
Another defendant has been convicted in the execution-style killings of three Newark friends in 2007.

An Essex County jury found Jose Carranza guilty on three counts of felony murder and four counts of first-degree armed robbery.

But he was acquitted on three counts of murder and charges of attempted murder, sexual assault, conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit murder.

The sexual assault charge allegedly had been committed against a woman who survived the attack, which took place in a playground behind Newark's Mount Vernon School. Investigators claimed that fingerprint evidence on a still-cold bottle of beer put Carranza in the schoolyard on the night the slayings occurred.

The verdict was returned Tuesday afternoon, a week after the jury got the case. Overall, the panel deliberated for about five days.

"If it were up to me he would have been convicted on all 19 counts but I respect the verdict of the jury," said Assistant County Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo. "We are satisfied with the verdict because it means Carranza faces life in prison when he is sentenced.

The 32-year-old Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru, was free on bail in an unrelated case when the murders occurred in August 2007. The brutal slayings - in which at least two victims were slashed with a machete before three were lined up against a wall and shot - sent shock waves through Newark and jump-started anti-crime measures such as the installation of surveillance cameras that were credited with decreasing violent crime in the state's largest city.

The three friends who were killed - Dashon Harvey, Iofemi (eye-OH'-fehm-ee) Hightower and Terrance "T.J." Aeriel - died from gunshot wounds to the head. All four victims were either attending or planning to attend Delaware State University that fall.

Two co-defendants have been convicted and two others pleaded guilty. One testified against Carranza, while a sixth defendant is awaiting trial.

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