Gang pals scared off witness

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blazeking
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Gang pals scared off witness

Unread post by blazeking » November 5th, 2005, 11:02 am

TRENTON -- Slain Saladin "Puppy" Washington’s family complained that their son’s killers got light sentences in Mercer County Court yesterday because Bloods gangsters intimidated a key prosecution witness.


Vincent Washington, of Trenton, the father of fledging college student Saladin "Puppy" Washington, said a key witness, who reportedly observed the Dec. 9 killing, was quickly scared off by the killers’ gangbanging buddies not to cooperate with police.



Michael Tard, 26, of Passiac Street, and Richard Brooks, 28, of Camden Street, were initially charged with murder but yesterday were sentenced to lesser charges as the family continued to question a court system that saw Washington’s killers get off with what Judge Maryann Bielamowicz called a "very generous offer."

If the case had gone to trial, both Broooks and Tard could’ve gotten life sentences had they been found guilty.

While surrounded by upset family members in the hallway of the Mercer County Court House, the angry father said street gangs that plagued his neighborhood scared away the one witness who saw the whole shooting unfold.

He said the unidentified woman, who did help out police in identifying the duo, had been threatened by gang members as the case looked like it was going to go to trial.

Vincent Washington said the woman feared for her life and her children’s if she was forced to testify.

"They scared off the witness, the Bloods, that gang. She was afraid to testify," Washington’s father said.

"They needed to get more time than that," he said. "Hopefully they get theirs in prison."

On July 18, jury selection was slated to begin in their murder trial and prosecutors said the female witness was set to take the stand that week.

But the men at the last minute decided to plead out to the lesser charges.

Brooks, who eventually pleaded guilty to shooting Washington in the abdomen with a shotgun, was offered 10 years in jail on aggravated manslaughter charge.

Tard, who like his codefendant has an extensive criminal record, pleaded guilty to weapons offenses in exchange for a five-year prison term.

Yesterday Bielamowicz stuck to the deal, but not before telling the two men they got off lucky.

She said the state was "limited somewhat" in pushing for a longer prison term.

"I can understand the feeling of the family that this appears to be minimal with the tragic consequences that occurred," Bielamowicz said, while ordering Brooks pay $4,000 and Tard pay $1,000 in restitution to cover the family’s funeral expenses.

Under the terms of the No Early Release Act, Brooks will have to serve 8½ years in jail before he’s eligible for parole, while Tard must spend the next 3½years in prison before he can be released.

The killers, however, have remained behind bars ever since their Dec. 18, 2003 arrest and were given 687 days in jail credits toward the sentence, the judge ruled.

"We would have liked to see Mr. Brooks get more, but because of lack of truth we offered a 10-year term," said Assistant Prosecutor Skylar Weissman.

He said prosecutors "had some witness problems in the case."

An eyewitness, who the family said lived in the Passiac Street apartment where Washington was shot, told police that Brooks -- who had been out of prison for a year when the killing took place -- and Tard murdered him in retaliation for a report the victim set the pair up to be robbed.

The witness told police one of the suspects said to Washington, "This will be the last time you set us up," before shooting him, Weissman said at a previous hearing.

Washington responded by saying, "If you are going to shoot me, shoot me," and that’s what Brooks did, police said at the time of the incident.

The witness, who reportedly heard the three argue, told police she heard a gunshot, saw Brooks leaning over Washington’s near dead body and then saw two men leaving the apartment.

Brooks and Tard were charged with first-degree murder when police located the two hanging out in New York City a week after the killing, police said.

After he was shot, Washington was taken to Capitol Health System at Fuld, where he died five hours after the shooting, police said at the time.

The witness had identified the men through a photo lineup, but apparently was scared off by the gangs to cooperate any further.

"I don’t know what you were trying to prove," Washington said to his son’s killers.

"You killed my son," he said. "You took my son’s life. And you get nothing for that. You’re not getting what you deserve."

Brooks said he didn’t want to address Washington’s family sitting in the court room yesterday, deciding to only speak through his lawyer John Hartmann.

But Tard offered his condolences to Washington’s family -- causing the women in the crowd to break into tears.

Washington, who was killed on the night of placement exams at Mercer County Community College, was nicknamed "Puppy" because of his good looks.

At the time of his death he was described as being "too fly" by his friends and neighbors.

"(Brooks and Tard) were his friends," Washington’s mother, Christine, said after yesterday’s sentencing. "They were just jealous of him."



©The Trentonian 2005

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