When violent crimes cases are heard in New Jersey courts, occasionally the location of the alleged incident will play a central role in legal proceedings. In August 2007, several individuals allegedly killed three teens who were socializing in a Newark schoolyard after hours. Speculation that the area was a hangout for local gang members pushed victims' families to try and hold the Newark School District partially responsible for the crimes, based on a lack of security at the location.
Across the state, violent crimes can encompass countless criminal classifications: assault, murder, bodily harm, reckless endangerment, terroristic threats and stalking, just to name a few. Those charged may have to face substantial time behind bars.
In the case of the Newark schoolyard deaths, six defendants have become embroiled in the legal consequences that accompany allegations of serious crimes. Half of the accused have since been convicted, with another is awaiting trial this year.
In New Jersey, a crime can be considered murder if one individual kills another while carrying out another serious crime. State courts also may try to convict someone of murder if he or she kills someone in the midst of fleeing from the scene of a serious crime.
The triple murders in Newark involve admitted gang members, a fact that will likely come into play during future trials. New Jersey allows for murder defendants' prior criminal history to be acknowledged during penalty phases in certain cases.
Another aspect of the crimes that has already surfaced in court is the schoolyard itself. A letter dated shortly before the murders shows that high-ranking school officials had acknowledged possible gang activity at the location and urged preventive action by the local school district. As a result, according to an attorney for one of the deceased's families, the school district knew the yard was dangerous and should bear some responsibility for the deaths that occurred there.
Source: The New York Post, "Judge OKs suit arising from NJ schoolyard killings," June 20, 2012