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“Baby-faced killer” Fernando Carrero Jr. deliberately gunned down an aspiring police officer in Lyndhurst during an unprovoked attack, a prosecutor said during openings in his murder trial today.
“He looks pleasing on the outside,” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer told jurors in Hackensack. “Some might even say he looks too young to have committed the crimes he’s accused of.”
A defense attorney countered that Jose Hall was killed during a struggle with Carrero, who was 17 at the time, and not shot in cold blood.
What version the jurors believe makes an enormous difference.
A murder conviction means a lifetime prison sentence. If the jury instead opts for manslaughter — by accepting the defense the shooting occured during a struggle — the term ranges from five to 10 years.
Carrero two years ago admitted killing Hall but revoked his aggravated manslaughter plea – which would have brought a maximum state prison term of 30 years – contending that his lawyer at the time misled him.
The trial that began this morning could hinge on the credibility of a single witness: Carrero’s girlfriend, Kerrilynn Lowenstein, who was there during the shooting at her parents’ Second Avenue house six years ago.
Carrero is to be tried separately on charges of witness tampering for allegedly trying to orchestrate her testimony and that of another key witness in the case.
Grootenboer described the couple’s relationship this morning as contentious and Carrero, of Newark, as jealous and controlling.
“Kerrilynn began dating Carrero in May 2006,” the assistant prosecutor told jurors. “She soon learned that he had a dark and sinister side.”
Carrero “told her who she could see, who she could talk to,” Grootenboer said. “He abused her more than once. It became obvious her black eyes were from him.”
Carrero made Lowenstein put her cellphone calls on speaker when she was with him – which is how he knew Hall, of Newark, was at her parents’ house on Nov. 6, 2006, Grootenboer said.
Shortly after midnight, police were called and the mortally wounded Hall was rushed to a nearby hospital. He’d been shot in the head and stomach. Hall — who had just applied to become a Newark police officer, following in his father’s footsteps – was taken off life support less than two days later.
Police said they found the handgun wrapped in a plastic bag at a friend’s home in Orange, where they said Carrero had fled.
Defense attorney Raymond R. Beam Jr. disputed Grootenboer’s version of Lowenstein’s statements to investigators.
“She was questioned from 2 to 7 a.m. on the day of the shooting, and she gave two different versions,” Beam told jurors earlier today. “She was trying to distance herself from what happened.
“After several hours of mental arm-twisting, she finally told police after she heard the first shot and came back to the kitchen, there was a wrestling match going on, and during this confrontation Hall was shot the second time.”
Beam said the second shot was unintentional, and not the cold and deliberate act that Grootenboer described.
Carrero, who’s been in the Bergen County Jail since the Nov. 7, 2007 killing, originally was charged as a juvenile. But he copped to aggravated manslaughter and hindering charges offered by prosecutors in adult criminal court rather than stand trial for murder.
Last March, Carrero asked Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian to revoke the plead, contending his lawyer at the time misled him about the likely sentence for “copping out.”
- YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A man who originally admitted killing an aspiring police officer in Lyndhurst has withdrawn his guilty plea and will be tried for murder in Hackensack next month. READ MORE….
He said he was pressured by his lawyer’s insistence that he’d go to prison for life if convicted at a trial and “just wanted to get out of here because of the mental turmoil I’ve been going through.”
Jerejian granted the request, setting the stage for the trial that began this morning.
Both sides said it could take about a month to complete. After that, the witness tampering charges can be dealt with.
STORY, PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia
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