The sixth and final defendant charged in 2007’s infamous schoolyard murders was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 200 years in prison.
Gerardo Gomez, 20, of Newark, received a sentence of 195 years for his role in the murders of three Delaware State University students at the Mount Vernon schoolyard in Newark. A fourth victim was also shot but survived.
“For more than five years, Natasha Aeriel, the lone survivor, and the parents of these promising young people who were murdered senselessly, have had to live and re-live what occurred in that schoolyard on Aug. 4, 2007. With dignity and strength, they came to court time and time again to do their part to ensure that justice was done. Today, we close the book on this chapter of an extremely long and painful journey for them,’’ said Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray.
“I know Natasha, the Harveys, the Hightowers and the Aeriel family still have a lot of tough days a head. Now that the criminal proceedings are behind them, I wish I could tell them that it will be easier. I’m not sure that is true, but I hope that the extraordinary work done by Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue and Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo, our detectives, victim witness advocates and all those who played a part in the successful resolution of this case, will give them some comfort.’’
Gomez is the youngest of the defendants in the case to either be convicted or to plead guilty to charges in the brutal murders of three of four college-age friends who were shot after being robbed while listening to music in the schoolyard of the Mount Vernon Elementary School, located in the Ivy Hill Section.
Terrance Aeriel, 18, and Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20, were murdered. Hightower was also slashed with a machete. Natasha Aeriel, now 24, was shot and also attacked with a machete, but survived.
On the night of his 15th birthday, Gomez, along with five other men and boys, robbed the four friends using a handgun, machete, and kitchen knife. Three of the victims—Harvey, Hightower and Terrance Aeriel—were taken to a separate part of the school yard, lined up against a wall, and were each fatally shot in the head.
Gomez was convicted of murder, felony murder, conspiracy and robbery. He must serve 165 years before he is eligible for parole. Gomez has been in jail since being captured shortly after the crimes occurred.
In addition to Gomez, the other defendants in the case included:
- Rodolfo Godinez, 29, of Newark directed the others in the gang-related murders. An immigrant of Nicaragua and alleged leader of MS-13, a violent Central American street gang operating in the city, Godinez was the first defendant to be convicted. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in July 2010 for his role in the attack and to 20 years for the attempted murder of Natasha Aeriel. In total, Judge Ravin sentenced Godinez to 245 years. His earliest parole will be in 216 years.
- Melvin Jovel, 23, of Newark pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and weapons charges in September 2010 for shooting all four victims with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun. He was sentenced to 245 years.
- Alexander Alfaro, 22, of Newark, was convicted by a jury in April 2011 on 16 of 17 counts, including three counts of murder. Alfaro, who wielded the 14-inch machete during the attacks, slashed Hightower in the head, back and hand before she was shot. The half-brother of Godinez, he was sentenced to 212 years in state prison and must serve 180 years before he is eligible for parole.
- Jose Carranza, 33, of Newark was convicted by an Essex County jury of three counts of murder. In March 2012, he was sentenced to 155 years. Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru, is not eligible for parole for 107 years.
- Shahid Baskerville, 21, of Morristown, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery and aggravated sexual contact. Baskerville is the only defendant to apologize to the families at sentencing for his role in the crime. Baskerville, who grew up in Newark and was a childhood friend of Alfaro and Gomez, was sentenced to 30 years on Dec. 13, 2012. He will be under lifetime parole supervision when he is released from prison.