Sixth Defendant in Schoolyard Slayings Found Guilty
Prosecutor to ask for multiple life sentences at sentencing next year
Gerardo Gomez, the sixth defendant in the infamous execution-style Newark schoolyard murders that grabbed international headlines four years ago, was convicted Friday on murder charges, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Five co-defendants had previously been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty.
Gomez, 20, was nearly 16 on Aug.4, 2007, when he and five others robbed and shot four college students listening to music together at the playground of Mt. Vernon Elementary School.
Three of the victims were taken down the stairs to a separate part of the school yard where they shot in the back of head. One victim, Iofemi Hightower, then 20, was also brutally assaulted with a machete. A fourth female victim was sexually assaulted, attacked with the machete, and shot in the head during the incident, but survived.
The other victims are Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Natasha Aeriel, now 24, who was the only survivor and testified during the trial. The victims were all students at Delaware State College.
Gomez, four of whose co-defendants were members of the MS-13 street gang, was found guilty of 15 out of 17 counts following the six-week trial before Judge Michael Ravin. The charges included murder, felony murder, attempted murder and multiple counts of robbery. He will be sentenced Jan. 8, 2013.
“The people I really want praise are the police officers and crime scene investigators. They did a terrific job. This case is an example of a collaboration between the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Newark Police Department at its best,’’ said Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue, who tried the case with Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo.
McTigue lauded the extraordinary police work done by Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Det. Kevin Green and Det. Michael Bozsolak and Det. Lydell James of the Newark Police Department.
“The strength and courage demonstrated by Natasha Aeriel and the surviving family members, through all their grief and pain, was simply remarkable,” Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said in a statement. “They have been through four lengthy trials and multiple court proceedings but they never wavered in their commitment to see that justice was done.’’