One of four men convicted in the death of a 14-year-old New Jersey girl gunned down at a takeout restaurant almost five years ago has been re-sentenced to a term half as long as the one originally imposed.
NorthJersey.com reports that Superior Court Judge Carol Novey Catuogno imposed a 10-year term Friday on now-26-year-old Nyje Johnson after he agreed to a plea deal on reduced charges of manslaughter.
Authorities said Johnson was among four gang members who opened fire on a Paterson takeout restaurant in September 2014, killing 14-year-old Nazerah Bugg, a budding basketball star and innocent bystander. Bugg’s 15-year-old friend was also struck by the gunfire but survived.
In 2017, Johnson and a co-defendant were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and weapons offenses. An appellate court threw out the convictions last year, saying jury selections for their trial were not “race neutral” and that prosecutors appeared to prefer “significant number of conservative white males.”
Prosecutors said Friday that they may never know which of the four gunmen fired the shots, which they allege were ordered by gang leaders in retaliation for another shooting earlier that day that wounded a gang member.
“What we know, judge, is at the end of the night a little girl — 14 years old — lay in the street, and another 15-year-old was fighting for her life in the hospital,” said Jorge Morales, a senior assistant Passaic County prosecutor.
The judge on Friday rejected defense arguments that the six years he spent behind bars was enough. Defense attorney Landry Belizaire said his client, who had no prior criminal record, was present but never fired his gun.
“He made one mistake in his life at 19,” Belizaire said. “For that I think he’s paid his debt to society. He’s been deprived of his early adulthood.”
The judge, however, said the 10-year sentence was in line with what the other gunmen received.
“I hope that you appreciate the magnitude of what you’ve done,” she told Johnson.
Family members said Bugg, a basketball standout at John F. Kennedy High School, dreamed of playing in the WNBA. Her death came about two months after a 12-year-old Paterson girl was killed by a stray bullet and spurred many residents to call for authorities to do more about ongoing violence in the city.
The case was moved from Passaic County to Bergen County because a relative of the victim worked in the Passaic County Court’s criminal division.