The first defendant to go on trial in the brutal, execution-style murder of three friends on a Newark schoolyard has been convicted on all counts.
After deliberating for nearly four hours a jury returned the verdict Monday morning, finding Rodolfo Godinez guilty on all 17 counts, including robbery and conspiracy to commit murder.
The victims' family members, including several parents, wept quietly in state Superior Court in Newark as the verdict was read.
Godinez, a Nicaraguan national, is the first of six defendants to be tried for the Aug. 4, 2007, assassination-style slayings of the three friends. Prosecutors maintained that Godinez was the ringleader of all six accused in the crime.
A 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.
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.
Godinez could face several life terms in prison at sentencing on July 8. The slaying shocked Newark into action to deal with rampant violence in the streets.