The first trial in connection with the brutal murders of three friends in a Newark schoolyard began Tuesday with opening statements. Three men and three teens were indicted for the gruesome August 2007 killings of three college students. At least two victims were gay. One woman, a lesbian, was sexually assaulted. Prosecutors declined to file hate crime charges ... partly because the victims' families "did not want" their deceased children identified as gay.
Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey were killed August 4, 2007 when they were shot execution style outside a Newark elementary school. A fourth victim survived the shootings. Harvey, Aeriel and the 19 year old survivor attended Delaware State University and lived in Newark. Harvey was openly gay, Hightower was reportedly lesbian and the friends "planned to drive together to New York City the next morning to attend a black Gay Pride event at Riis Park Beach.
Rodolfo Godinez is the first of six defendants to go to trial. In today's opening arguments, Essex County prosecutors said this was a robbery and initiation into a violent El Salvadoran street gang. The defendants allegedly attacked the victims with a machete before shooting them execution-style. All six suspects face murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons counts in addition to the sexual assault.
Sources tell Rod 2.0 at least one teen defendant attended high school with one of the gay victims. "Some of the kids who hung with that clique were gay, some weren't, but it was widely known as 'the gay clique'", one person said.
In April 2008, Rod 2.0 reported the victim's families resisted efforts to label the case an anti-gay hate crime:
[Newark] black gay activists say the families of the victims "did not support efforts to publicly identify the murders as an anti-gay hate crime. 'We were told that anything related to the victims' sexual orientation should remain a private matter,' said James Credle, co-president of Newark Pride Alliance, a gay group. 'They made it clear that they didn't want the case to go in that direction.' " The police and mayor have refused to label the case as more than a "robbery gone wrong". Credle says anti-gay stigma remains strong in Newark's predominately black community.
R20's complete coverage HERE.
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