A man who admitted pulling the trigger in the execution-style killings of three friends in a New Jersey schoolyard has been sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.
Melvin Jovel, 21, on Thursday received three consecutive life sentences plus 20 years for murder and attempted murder of the lone survivor of the schoolyard massacre.
He showed no emotion in court as he listened the family impact statement and the sentence through headphones.
Jovel enetered a guilty plea in September in the case, and admitted he was the gunman who fired a .357 Magnum into the heads of Iofemi Hightower, Dashon Harvey, Terrence Ariel, and his sister, the only one to survive what the judge called a show of "unmitigated disdain for the sanctity of human life."
Judge Michael Ravin said the fact that he spared the families the ordeal of another trial "dwarfed by the utter horror and repulsiveness of what the defendant did and the fact that he has absolutely no remorse."
A fourth victim survived and testified at the first trial in the case that she was sexually assaulted, slashed with a machete and shot in the head.
She also spoke in court Thursday, thanking Jovel for "allowing me to get closer to Christ" before chastising him for refusing to look at her as she spoke.
"You and your homies had a plan for me, you wanted me dead — but I'm still here," said the woman, who is not being identified by The Associated Press because of the sexual assault charges. "Have fun living your fancy life in jail," she added.
Jovel, wearing dark green prison scrubs and translation headphones, stared straight ahead throughout the proceedings, making only a brief statement in Spanish before his sentencing.
"The only thing I have to say is the person who was sentenced had nothing to do with it," Jovel said, an apparent reference to co-defendant Rodolfo Godinez, who was sentenced in July to three consecutive life sentences for the killings.
Prosecutors said Godinez, a legal immigrant from Nicaragua, Jovel, an illegal Honduran immigrant, and several of the defendants were engaging in an initiation ritual for members of the MS-13 street gang. The men did not know the victims, prosecutors said, but Jovel and at least two of the other suspects had lived in an apartment complex across the street from the scene of the slayings.
The four victims, who attended or planned to attend Delaware State University, were hanging out listening to music behind Newark's Mount Vernon school on the night of Aug. 4, 2007, when they were approached by the suspects, who robbed them and forced them to lie on the ground before shooting them, according to prosecutors.
The publicity surrounding the killings focused national attention on violent crime in New Jersey's largest city and jump-started anti-crime initiatives. The killings also led state officials to grant police the authority to refer violent crime suspects' names to immigration authorities if they are suspected of being in the country illegally.
Several of the victims' family members spoke at the sentencing, including Dashon Harvey's father, James.
"My son was a beacon of light in our society, in which beacons of light are hard to find," he said. "He made me proud to be his dad, in a society without a lot of fathers."
The families expressed relief at Jovel's sentencing, but Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue said it was little comfort compared to "the pain and enormity of the cases."
"I think it bespeaks the community's growing impatience with the violence that permeates everyday life, and the casual way sometimes life is taken in this county without provocation, and without any seeming good reason," McTigue said.
State Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin gave Jovel three consecutive life sentences plus 20 years, which in New Jersey, is an aggregate sentence of about 245 years.
Jovel would have to serve at least 85 percent of that before becoming eligible for parole.