What to Know
- A judge will rule Monday whether police had probable cause to search a heavily armed vehicle crossing the Holland Tunnel last summer
- The three occupants have said they were on a mission to rescue a young woman who was on drugs
- The leader of the group, John Cramsey, has called the presence of the guns in the car an 'oversight'
A self-styled anti-drug crusader and two associates arrested with a van full of weapons on their way to New York City last summer are seeking to avoid jail time as they await a potential plea offer from prosecutors later this week.
John Cramsey, Dean Smith and Kimberly Arendt, all of Pennsylvania, have pleaded not guilty to weapons possession charges. They were stopped outside the Holland Tunnel on June 21 and said they were seeking to help a teen girl who had sent a message to Arendt, her former camp counselor, after a friend died of an overdose in a hotel room.
At a court hearing Monday, Cramsey's attorney, James Lisa, told the judge he would appeal the Hudson County prosecutor's office's denial of his client's application for pretrial intervention, a program that, if completed, could result in the charges being dismissed.
Smith's attorney told state Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez he has applied for the same program. Arendt's attorney told the judge he would apply for it for his client.
Also Monday, Galis-Menendez said she had informed the parties earlier this month that the defendants won't be able to exclude the evidence seized in a search by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police outside the tunnel.
An officer said he stopped the car over a windshield crack and objects hanging from the rearview mirror. The defendants argued it's more likely they were pulled over because they were driving a truck adorned with crosshairs and pro-Second Amendment decals.
Lisa said an appeal of the decision "wouldn't have any merit."
"I think the judge made the correct decision under the circumstances," he said. "Do I think the cop was being forthright in his testimony? No. I believe it was the markings. But the judge made a decision based on the evidence, and we have to live with that."
Galis-Menendez told prosecutors if they are going to offer a plea deal to the defendants, to do it by Friday. The prosecutor's office didn't respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
"We would like to have a deal," Lisa said. "We aren't accepting any deal that would involve state prison."
The story already has ended tragically for the teen at the center of the case.
Jenea Patterson, 18, died of an apparent drug overdose last month, according to her father, James Patterson.
"When I went down to get her in New York, I told her right then and there this is a warning sign for you," Patterson said. "I grabbed her and I held her in my arms and I said 'You've gotta get out of the game, Jenea, death is knocking at your door.'"
Patterson said the older of his two daughters had a good heart and enjoyed helping others, but started abusing prescription pills when she was 13. She later started using heroin and was sent to a program for troubled youth in 2014, where she met Arendt. But Patterson said his daughter got worse after leaving.
Grief-stricken after the death of his own daughter, Cramsey became an anti-drug crusader and going on rescue missions to help addicts get into treatment. He owned a gun range in Pennsylvania but did not have a permit in New Jersey to transport five handguns, a shotgun and semi-automatic military-style rifle.
"I would tell the judge to let him go," Patterson said. "The man, all he was trying to do was to help a child. They just need to drop the charges. He's doing the job that (law enforcement) should be doing."
This story has been corrected to show the prosecutor's office, not the judge, rejected Cramsey's pretrial intervention request.
Associated Press writer Josh Cornfield, in Trenton, contributed to this story.