Jury acquits alleged blood gang member of murder

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Jury acquits alleged blood gang member of murder

Unread postby lb516 » February 17th, 2004, 12:49 pm

Jury acquits alleged gang member of murder

McClain convicted of reckless manslaughter in torture-slaying, but avoids death penalty

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Star-Ledger Staff

After five days of deliberations, a jury in Essex County acquitted reputed Bloods gang member Horace McClain yesterday of murder, but found him guilty of reckless manslaughter and weapons offenses.

McClain, 29, of Newark, who quoted quietly from the Quran and declared himself a nonviolent man when he took the witness stand in his own defense, was accused in the ritualistic torture and murder of Christopher Booker, 28, a Marine Corps reservist who prosecutors said was also a member of the notorious gang.

Had McClain been convicted of murder, he could have been sentenced to death.

Two other defendants, Shawntah McLendon and Darryl Beasley, are awaiting trial in Booker's murder. They, too, face the death penalty. McLendon is McClain's wife.

Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Anthony DeMarco said he respected the jury's decision, but was "very disappointed" with the verdict.

"I truly believe he is guilty of murder," DeMarco said. "I feel bad for the victim's mother and father."

Roy Greenman, one of McClain's two attorneys, said his client maintains his innocence.

"We think the jury certainly had a difficult time. It's not easy being sequestered," he said.

Superior Court Judge Paul Vichness sequestered the jurors before they began their deliberations on Wednesday. After the jury returned with its verdict around 6 p.m. yesterday, Vichness told them he took the unusual step because his life had been threatened in the event jurors had sentenced McClain to death.

After court, the jurors, whom the judge cautioned about discussing the case with outsiders, were escorted to their cars by sheriff's officers.

Sheriff Armando Fontoura later said the jurors were sequestered for their own protection. He said his office and the State Police are investigating the threat against Vichness and have developed some leads.

McClain faces five to 10 years in prison for reckless manslaughter, the most serious charge on which he was convicted, DeMarco said. McClain was also convicted of unlawful possession of a knife and a sword.

The jury, however, acquitted him of three charges -- murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault -- and said it could not reach a decision on an aggravated manslaughter charge, DeMarco said.

McClain, who says he is an imam, or Muslim teacher, showed no emotion upon hearing the verdicts, onlookers said. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 16.

Booker's parents, who attended the trial and waited in the courthouse through 40 hours of deliberations, left the building last night without commenting.

Their son's butchered body was found in a vacant lot in Newark on Nov. 27, 2000, his hands and feet bound with bandannas. Two dozen stab wounds sliced his head and neck.

The defense maintained that McClain was a religious man who was home with his wife and three children at the time Booker was killed.

But the prosecution claimed McClain orchestrated the grisly murder on Nov. 25, 2000, in a home at 84 Farley Ave. in Newark after Booker violated gang rules by assaulting another member.

The prosecution produced as witnesses gang members Erika Riggins and Sylvia Gregory, who testified that they took part in the slaying under orders from McClain. The two were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges than murder in exchange for their testimony.

Riggins, who was Booker's girlfriend and was living with him at the time of the murder, has pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and is facing 30 years in prison; Gregory pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and faces 10 years.

Essex County hasn't had a sequestered jury since a half-dozen reputed members of the Gambino crime family were tried on racketeering charges in 1993. That jury was sequestered during the trial, which last months, and cost a half-million dollars.

The costs associated with sequestering jurors in this trial will amount to about $25,000, Fontoura said.

The last death verdict in the county also occurred in 1993 when a New York resident was convicted for the contract murder of a pizzeria owner in Maplewood.

Staff writer Mary Jo Patterson contributed to this report.

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