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A judge in Hackensack today sent “baby-faced killer” Fernando Carrero Jr. to prison for life for gunning down an aspiring police officer in Lyndhurst during a dispute over his girlfriend.
Carrero sat motionless, his family gasping and sobbing behind him, as Superior Court Judge Patrick Roma advised him that he couldn’t be eligible for parole for 75 years.
Just before sentencing him, Roma asked Carrero whether he had anything to say.
“Mr. Carrero, this is your only opportunity to speak,” the judge said. “It’s the only opportunity you will have to influence the sentence.”
“No comment,” he replied.
Jurors convicted Carrero on Feb. 1 of murder, weapons possession and hindering apprehension in the Nov. 6, 2007 shooting death of Jose Hall of Newark.
A montage of photos of Hall was displayed on a laptop during today’s hearing ( at right ), during which loved ones spoke of their loss.
Roma — who also ordered that Carrero pay $5,000 restitution to the Violent Crimes Compensation board toward Hall’s funeral expenses — said he no mitigating factors whatsoever in the case to warrant anything less than a life sentence.
Defense attorney Raymond Beam Jr. argued today that the 30-year term struck in the original plea bargain was appropriate.
“Punish him sufficiently, but punish him fairly,” Beam argued. “It is still his first adult offense.”
“Being young does not make you any less vicious,” Roma said. “I am concerned with violence. We see it in the network news every day, and we wonder why.
“Why would you go to someone’s house with a .357?”
Roma ordinarily speaks in smooth, even tones. But today his voice became choked at times.
The judge agreed with Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer’s argument that Carrero could have left through the kitchen door, but instead “chose to shoot the victim twice, from 12 to 18 inches away.”
“I can’t help but wonder what was going through Jose’s mind while he was lying on the floor – the anguish, the stress, the pain and feelings. I simply can’t comprehend this crime.”
Grootenboer told jurors during the trial that Carrero — who was 17 at the time — shot Hall in cold blood. Carrero’s attorney countered that Hall was killed during a struggle.
Carrero three years ago admitted killing Hall but revoked his aggravated manslaughter plea – which would have brought a maximum of 30 years in prison – contending that his lawyer at the time misled him.
The trial rested in large part on the credibility of a single witness: Carrero’s girlfriend, Kerrilynn Lowenstein, who was there during the shooting at her parents’ Second Avenue house (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).
Lowenstein testified that she heard the first shot ring out in the family kitchen and ran in to find Hall in a fetal position on his back. Carrero was standing over him, she said.
Lowenstein said she tried to take the gun but that Carrero aimed it at Hall’s head and pulled the trigger.
Grootenboer told jurors that Carrero was jealous that his girlfriend’s ex-lover, Corey Hicks, was still living in her parents’ house with her.
So he went there with a loaded .357 Magnum and ran into Hall, who was Hicks’ best friend.
An argument ensued and Hall, 21, was shot.
Shortly after midnight, police were called and the mortally wounded Hall was rushed to a nearby hospital. 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.
Beam 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 said. “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 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.
Roma today expressed admiration for young Jose Hall, whose father explained they had donated his organs because Jose had wanted them to. And while he found aggravating factors that contribute to a harsher sentence, the judge found no mitigating factors whatsoever.
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