Third suspect charged in 3 schoolyard killings

/ Source: The Associated Press

A third suspect was charged Friday night in the execution-style killings of three college students in a neighborhood school yard, prosecutors said.

Information on the suspect was not immediately released. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office planned to announce the details during a news conference later Friday night.

The arrest was announced several hours after Jose Carranza, 28, pleaded not guilty to three charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and robbery.

Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Carranza said he understood the charges against him. It was his first court appearance since he surrendered Thursday to Mayor Cory A. Booker.

Carranza was being held on $1 million bail. His lawyer, Felix Lopez Montalvo, declined to comment after the 11-minute hearing.

A second suspect, a 15-year-old boy, pleaded not guilty Thursday and remains in custody, prosecutor Thomas McTigue said Friday. Authorities are seeking to have the boy tried as an adult. His name was not released because of his age.

Both have been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and related charges.

'Stop the Killings'
The shootings ratcheted up anger in New Jersey’s largest city, where overall crime has declined but where killings continued at last year’s pace with 60 homicides so far this year. The killings have prompted billboards in the downtown area that scream, “HELP WANTED: Stop the Killings in Newark Now!”

Defendant Jose Carranza, who is charged with killing three college students and wounding a fourth, stands in state Superior Court in Newark, N.J., during an appearance Friday, Aug. 10, 2007. Carranza pleaded not guilty to the crimes. (AP Photo/Mike Derer, Pool)Mike Derer / Pool AP

Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow has said authorities hoped to arrest others they believe were involved in the killings.

The four victims, friends aged 18 to 20, were shot while visiting in a schoolyard near their homes Saturday night. Authorities have said robbery appeared to be the motive.

Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, were forced to kneel against a wall and were shot at close range. The fourth victim, 19-year-old Natasha Aeriel, Terrance Aeriel’s sister, survived a wound to her head and is hospitalized. All four planned to attend Delaware State University this fall.

Evidence ties Carranza?
Officials said fingerprints on a bottle found at the shooting scene and ballistics evidence tied Carranza to the crime. Natasha Aeriel has also helped identify the suspects.

Authorities do not believe the four victims knew the suspects.

Residents and law enforcement organizations donated $150,000 to aid the victims’ families and to a reward fund for information on the case.