A judge on Thursday sentenced the first defendant convicted in the 2007 slayings of three friends in a New Jersey schoolyard to life in prison plus 20 years.
Rodolfo Godinez was convicted in May of murder, robbery and weapons offenses stemming from the August 2007 slayings of three friends. The 27-year-old immigrant from Nicaragua was convicted even though he was not linked to the gun used to shoot the three victims execution-style.
Five other defendants are awaiting trial.
The murders of Dashon Harvey, Terrance Aeriel and Iofemi Hightower and the shooting and stabbing of a fourth victim stunned New Jersey's largest city.
The fourth victim survived after being slashed by a machete and shot.. She testified against Godinez. In testimony that occasionally produced gasps from courtroom spectators, the woman described how the four friends were set upon by a group of six men. She described being cut with the huge knife then hearing gunshots before she was shot.
During the trial, jurors were shown autopsy photos of victims Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower and Terrance Aeriel.
The four friends were attending or about to attend Delaware State University. They were listening to music at the Mount Vernon School playground on the night of Aug. 4, 2007 when they were attacked.
The three victims were found slumped against a wall of the playground, each having suffered a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Hightower and the survivor also were slashed with a machete.
Without a wealth of physical evidence tying Godinez to the scene — he left DNA on a beer bottle at the playground but wasn't tied to the gun or knife used in the attacks — prosecutors used statements Godinez made to police and to a jailhouse acquaintance that appeared to implicate him.
Before deliberations, state Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin instructed jurors that, under New Jersey's accomplice liability statute, they could find Godinez guilty of the murders even though there was no evidence presented that he pulled the trigger.
Godinez's attorney, Roy Greenman, had argued his client was at the scene but didn't take part in the attacks.