MAYS LANDING — Opening statements began Thursday in the trial of Keshaun Earley, who is charged with murder in the Aug. 26, 2012, killing of James Jordan outside the Carver Hall Apartments in Atlantic City.
Statements from both sides focused on the alibi of the accused, who claims he was at his home in the Oakcrest Estates in Mays Landing when the killing occurred.
Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy told jurors Earley’s alibi doesn’t hold up in light of phone records and his changing story.
“If an alibi is built on a lie, over time you will find inconsistencies,” he said. “That’s just what happened.”
Central to Earley’s alibi is the claim that his phone was in Mays Landing at the time of the killing, as records indicate. However, Levy said calls and texts sent to Earley’s phone around the time of the slaying were not immediately returned, indicating he had intentionally left it at home to provide an alibi.
Levy also said he will bring to the stand three witnesses who positively identified Earley as the shooter, one of whom he implied may have once been romantically involved with Earley.
Levy also mentioned claims by Earley during questioning that he hadn’t been to Atlantic City in “months.” Later, he said, Earley admitted he had in fact entered the city on Aug. 26. He also said a witness the defense will call to corroborate Earley’s alibi gave information that conflicted with the facts, only to change her story later.
In his statement, public defender Eric Shenkus told jurors that the Prosecutor’s Office botched the investigation, identifying Earley as the suspect mere hours after the crime on questionable eyewitness testimony and little else.
He said the burden to keep an innocent man out of prison now lies on him and the jury.
“I’ve got a job to do, because no one else has done theirs,” Shenkus said. “I have full faith you’ll do your job.”
Shenkus said Earley was picked up by a friend at his Mays Landing home shortly after Jordan was shot and traveled to Atlantic City to get his daughter. Then, he said, Earley returned to a park near his home to play with her. Shenkus said a series of phone calls and texts, including a conversation he says Earley participated in at 12:11 — the same time as the killing — support this account.
He also said video from a camera in Earley’s neighborhood places him there at 12:25, fourteen minutes after the shooting. The route from Carver Hall to Oakcrest Estates is about 16 miles, mostly on the Atlantic City Expressway and the Black Horse Pike. Shenkus said Earley could not have fled the scene and covered such a distance in that period.
Shenkus also questioned the testimony of the witnesses, whom he said only had a few seconds to take in the scene and identify Earley. Surveillance video shows the shooter obscured his face with a towel as he shot, but dropped it for a few seconds to fix his gun when it malfunctioned.
Shenkus closed by dismissing the prosecutor’s concerns over his client’s misstatements during initial questioning. He said these inconsistencies show Earley was a scared young man frightened by a murder charge, not a “criminal mastermind with the coordination of Seal Team Six,” and a carefully crafted alibi.
“If this was some sort of manufactured alibi, wouldn’t you say, ‘Guys, you’re wasting my time?’” Shenkus said. “Or would you act like a scared 26-year-old?”
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday.
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