MAYS LANDING — The family of a man abducted from a casino parking garage had just one question for the man who admitted to his involvement: Why?
Eric Darden, 21, of Camden, chose not to speak at his sentencing Friday, when he was given a 40-year term in accordance with a plea agreement.
Sunil Rattu, 28, and his 24-year-old girlfriend, Radha Ghetia, were getting ready to leave the Trump Taj Mahal Casino garage shortly after 8 a.m. Sept. 18, 2011, when three men forced them at gunpoint to drive to an alley off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
According to Darden’s confession last month, Phillip Byrd then shot the couple. Rattu was killed; Ghetia wounded. The cases against Byrd and co-defendant Raheem Simmons are pending.
Why did they choose Rattu? the victim’s sister and brother-in-law asked Darden at his sentencing.
Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury said he was sorry they didn’t get their answer.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” defense attorney Troy Archie said outside the courtroom. “The same situation keeps repeating itself. As long as we have guns, drugs and poverty, it’s going to keep happening.”
He said there has been no confirmation of the men’s alleged gang affiliations. But when they were being sought shortly after the killing, a law enforcement-only flier indicated that they were associated with the Fruit Town Brim Bloods.
Juanita Darden also spoke in court, Archie confirmed, apologizing for her son’s actions.
Eric Darden must serve at least 30 years of his sentence. With credit for the 513 days he already has served, he could be free by his 50th birthday. He was already serving a three-year term in the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, Burlington County, on a possession of a weapon charge. The new sentence is concurrent to that.
Byrd will be in court March 13, when he will either accept a plea deal or opt for a trial. The state’s offer is 47 years with no parole for 85 percent of that sentence — or just less than 40 years. Simmons’ offer is 30 years with no parole. His attorney, John Bjorklund, said in court earlier this month that a Byrd plea “will absolutely impact whether we dispose of this case or not," indicating Simmons would plead guilty as well. He is due in court March 14.
Byrd and Simmons are also charged in the July 26, 2011, killing of two men found shot to death inside a car in Camden. Simmons was charged first in the case, then Byrd was charged after investigators allegedly found a phone under the car with text messages between the two about the killing.
Byrd also is serving a five-year prison sentence for weapon possession at the A.C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility in Avenel, Burlington County. He is eligible for parole in that case in April 2014.
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