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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Reputed gangster convicted of Irvington robbery, but jury deadlocks on four killings

02:23 | ,

One witness testified that Rolando Terrell pressed a 9 mm handgun to Candes McLean’s neck, stepped back and fired a fatal shot into her head. Seconds later, the witness said, Terrell shot and killed her daughter and niece, both 18, and her boyfriend’s 13-year-old daughter, then set fire to the Irvington house.
Authorities called the Sept. 8, 2008 quadruple killing on Columbia Avenue among the most horrific in recent memory.
But despite testimony from Terrell’s admitted accomplice and from the lone surviving victim — both of whom identified him as the killer — a jury in Newark Tuesday deadlocked on the top counts of murder against the reputed Bloods gang member.
The deeply divided panel returned a partial verdict, finding Terrell guilty on five of 16 counts, including two robbery charges, conspiracy to commit arson and two related gun possession offenses. The same jury later convicted him of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in a separate, 45-minute trial that immediately followed.
Superior Court Judge Joseph Cassini III declared a mistrial only on the unresolved charges, including four counts of murder and four counts of felony murder.
Killed were McLean, 40; her 18-year-old daughter, Talia McLean; her niece, Zakiyyah Jones, also 18; and 13-year-old Latrisha Carruthers-Fields, her boyfriend’s daughter. Candes McLean’s 19-year-old daughter, Anijah, survived by hiding in a closet and late saved her 16-month-old nephew by grabbing him and running from the burning house.
Terrell may still face life in prison because of New Jersey’s "Three Strikes" law, which states that defendants convicted of certain first-degree crimes who have twice previously been convicted serve the maximum term. Terrell, who will be sentenced June 1, has previously been convicted of two robberies, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Known on the street as "Ratman," Terrell also served seven years in prison after a jury in 2002 acquitted him of killing a rival gang member but convicted him of a lesser weapons offense.

Tuesday's early afternoon verdict came after more than 20 hours of deliberations that stretched over five days. Jurors announced they were deadlocked on their second day of deliberations, writing "deadlocked" in capital letters. The judge ordered them to continue deliberating and they did.
Several of the victims’ relatives who attended the month-long trial expressed frustration over the mixed verdict, but said they were grateful the guilty counts might land Terrell in prison for life.
"He killed four ... women," said Michael Hoskins, Candes McLean’s brother. "He did the robbery. They got him on the gun charge. So who shot them? But we’ll take what we can get."
Several aspects of the jury’s verdict made clear their uncertainty. Terrell, 39, was convicted of robbing McLean, a popular Newark cheerleading coach, but not guilty of robbing Talia McLean. They convicted him of conspiring to commit arson, but not the arson itself. And while he possessed the handgun, the jury could not determine whether he fired the shots.
A loving mother and grandmother, McLean had a secret, Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Roger Imhof said during the trial. "Candes McLean sold drugs," he said. Terrell knew that and was searching for cash that morning, believing McLean was an easy mark because her boyfriend — a fellow Bloods member — was in prison.
Terrance McLean, 24, who is Candes’ son, believes Terrell is responsible for the killings and wants a retrial on the murder counts.
"He needs to answer for that," Terrance McLean said.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said her office had not decided whether to retry the case, which it had called a strong one.
The verdict represented a setback for the prosecutor’s office, which just last week won another conviction in the latest Newark schoolyard triple slaying trial. A jury in that case found the defendant, 20-year-old Alexander Alfaro, guilty of murder and felony murder despite — like the case against Terrell — a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime. But what prosecutors had, which they didn’t have in this trial, was the defendant’s recorded statement to police admitting to his role in the attack.
The case against Terrell was substantial but circumstantial. His admitted accomplice, Lester Hayes, testified in detail to what happened that morning. But like Terrell, Hayes is an ex-convict whose credibility was battered by defense attorney Joseph Krakora. Hayes pleaded guilty to a lesser robbery charge in exchange for his testimony. Anijah McLean also testified how she hid in a bedroom closet that morning to escape the killings. Though she felt certain the voice coming from the other room was Terrell’s, McLean acknowledged she’d only met the defendant twice before.
Krakora would not comment after the verdict, but Terrell’s fiancee said "the evidence didn’t show he did it." Terrell, an imposing 5-foot-11, 250-pounds, "is a tough guy on the street but he’s not cold or cruel," said the woman, Chrystal, who didn’t want her last name published, fearing retaliation.
But that wasn’t swaying Tomeko McLean, Candes’ niece. "He damaged us all," she said. "Sometimes I think I’m dreaming, and I’ll wake up, and the nightmare will be over."


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