The man accused of shooting a couple in a fatal carjacking from a casino parking garage last year pleaded guilty Thursday — but said he was not the shooter.

Eric Darden, 21, pleaded guilty to murder in Atlantic County Superior Court on Thursday, and will face a full 30-year prison term when he is sentenced in February. He could have faced life in prison if convicted of all charges, which included murder and felony murder.

Darden, along with Philip Byrd, 21, and Raheem Simmons, 19, all of Camden, are accused of forcing a Middlesex County couple at gunpoint from the Trump Taj Mahal parking garage just before 8 a.m. Sept. 18, 2011, then shooting them in an alley off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Sunil Rattu, 28, of Old Bridge, died of two gunshots to the head. His girlfriend, Radha Ghetia, 24, of Parlin, was shot in the upper body, but survived.

Ghetia identified Darden’s gun as the weapon used.

Darden said his TEC-9 was not used, and Byrd fired the shots, and was the person making the decisions that night.

A .357 revolver was found on Byrd at the time of his arrest.

The statement heard in court Thursday contradicted a taped statement Byrd gave investigators in which he named Darden as the mastermind.

Byrd’s attorney, Ed Weinstock, said he found it “very interesting” that Darden named his client as the shooter when the surviving victim in the case identified the man with the gun as Darden.

“I’m never surprised or overly concerned about what a cooperating co-defendant has to say,” Weinstock said.

In the taped statement Byrd gave to investigators shortly after his arrest, he also named Darden as the shooter. Judge Bernard DeLury ruled in October that the statement would be admissible at trial.

Weinstock said he knows his client’s statement fingering Darden would likely be taken with caution by a jury, since he had a reason to name someone else as the shooter.

“But the victim says Darden was the shooter,” he said. “That, to me, makes Byrd’s statement that much more powerful.”

Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Maher asked Darden who shot the couple, and he replied Byrd. Darden was also asked who was making decisions that night, to which Darden also replied Byrd.

Darden faces a 30-year prison sentence, with no parole, after which he will be under supervision for five years. He has also waived his right to appeal the case.

In addition, he will be responsible for any fines and restitution which will be determined when he is sentenced Feb. 15.

The first trial for the case is set for April 8.

DeLury ruled his sentence would run concurrent to a sentence in Camden County for an unrelated case.

Darden and Byrd both have prior records, and both are currently serving sentences for separate incidents involving possession of a sawed-off shotgun.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

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Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

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