The Trial Unit is responsible for handling the majority of cases following indictment by the Grand Jury. This includes reviewing files upon indictment, negotiating plea agreements, arguing motions, trying cases, handling sentencings and violations of probation and managing Krol cases (involving defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity).
A designated assistant prosecutor supervises the Trial Unit. The Unit consists of three trial teams each comprised of two assistant prosecutors. There are also two detectives, three secretaries and several interns. In addition to these permanent members, assistant prosecutors from other sections within the office serve as adjunct members of the Unit and are periodically assigned cases for trial.
SIGNIFICANT CASES DURING 2016
State v. Demetrius Cope
On July 5, 2006, police arrived at the Burlington City apartment of Demetrius Cope to serve an arrest warrant. Once inside the apartment, officers observed and seized a camouflage rifle case containing ammunition and a rifle reported stolen from Pennsylvania. The defendant had previously been convicted of a crime and was prohibited from possessing a firearm and, as a result, was indicted as a Certain Person Not to Possess Firearms, a second-degree offense.
In May of 2011, the defendant was convicted following a jury trial. At sentencing, the court granted the State’s motion for imposition of a discretionary extended term and sentenced defendant to a term of twelve years and a period of parole ineligibility of six years. The defendant appealed, and the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the protective sweep of defendant’s apartment that led to the discovery of the rifle was lawful. However, the Court remanded the matter for retrial to allow the defendant to present evidence in support of a third-party guilt defense.
The defendant’s second trial began on December 8, 2016. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court held that it was error to exclude third-party guilt evidence from the original trial, the third-party, Dante Santiago, was not called by the defendant to testify. Instead, the defendant introduced a 2011 video interview between Santiago and two detectives from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office as well as a letter allegedly authored by Santiago. In the 2011 interview, Santiago claimed ownership of the weapon. However, during rebuttal, the jury heard testimony from a defense investigator that Santiago disavowed his 2011 statement and indicated that he was coerced into taking responsibility for the weapon. The defendant was convicted yet again.
On February 23, 2017, the trial court denied the State’s motion for imposition of an extended term, and imposed the minimum sentence of five years in New Jersey state prison with five years to be served without parole. The matter was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Lynch.
State v. Willie Hymon
On February 8, 2015, Medford Township officers were dispatched to a residence for a reported home invasion. The victim, Michael Tolstoy, age 64, reported that two individuals, later identified as Willie Hymon and Urie Ridgeway, entered his home while he was watching television. The defendants tied him to a chair with duct tape and beat him with a stick and a pipe. They stole his Cadillac, cell phone and a bottle of bourbon. Prior to leaving, the defendants ripped the phone out of the wall and told the victim that if he called the police, they would come back and kill him. The victim was able to free himself, went to a neighbor’s house and called the police.
During the course of the investigation, the victim was asked to meet with a composite sketch artist. Upon completion, the composites were disseminated to the press and the public. On February 12, 2015, a witness came forward and identified the individuals in the composite as Willie Hymon and Urie Ridgeway. He advised that he saw the individuals on February 9 at a residence in Pemberton in possession of a Cadillac, bottle of bourbon and cell phone. In fact, the witness showed officers where the bottle was located. Later that day, Urie Ridgeway was arrested. He was in possession of the victim’s cell phone and the keys to his Cadillac. Willie Hymon was also located and taken into custody. A DNA sample recovered from the bourbon bottle matched a DNA sample obtained from Hymon. While in jail awaiting trial, Hymon wrote a letter to the victim apologizing for what he and Ridgeway had done to him.
The defendants were indicted on robbery, burglary and kidnapping charges. Prior to trial, Ridgeway pled guilty. He was sentenced to 12 years New Jersey state prison. Hymon, however, opted to proceed to trial. On January 18, 2017, Hymon was found guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to 30 years in New Jersey state prison, and must serve 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole. The case was prosecuted by the Assistant Prosecutor Keith Carmy.
State v. Arnold Eckhardt
On the night of September 9, 2015, the defendant, Arnold Eckhardt, was operating a tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike heading south. He had just completed a delivery in Boston and had pulled into the Petro Truck Stop, located off Exit 7 of the Turnpike in Bordentown Township. After entering through the main gate and stopping to take a ticket, he pulled alongside a white tractor-trailer and exited his truck.
According to eyewitnesses, the defendant opened the door of the white tractor-trailer, pulled the driver out and proceeded to physically attack the driver while he lay on the ground. Witnesses who observed this incident called police. The defendant then got back into his truck and exited the lot, which was captured on surveillance footage.
When the police arrived, the victim was standing inside of the cabin of his truck and appeared to be disoriented. He was bleeding profusely from the mouth and could barely speak. The victim was transported to a Trenton hospital. By the time he reached the trauma bay, he had suffered multiple strokes and a tear to his carotid artery, requiring emergency surgery by a vascular neurosurgeon. The victim remained hospitalized for two weeks, where he was intubated and unable to speak. As a result of the strokes, he lost use of the right side of his body, including his arm and right side of his face.
Police were able to trace the defendant’s tractor-trailer to Mercer Transportation. The company confirmed that the defendant was the driver of the vehicle and was in the Petro station that night. New Jersey Turnpike Authority and E-ZPass records also confirmed his whereabouts. The defendant was located and interviewed. He acknowledged that he was involved in an altercation with the victim, but indicated that the victim “brake checked him to a stop” on the Turnpike, causing his truck to stall in the middle lane. The defendant also claimed the victim was able to stand and fight back, and was not incapacitated when he left the truck stop.
The defendant was indicted for Aggravated Assault. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury hung. The defendant subsequently pled guilty to third-degree Aggravated Assault. The defendant served 431 days in jail awaiting trial and was sentenced to time served. The matter was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Commentucci.