The three people accused in the fatal abduction of teen mother Nadirah Ruffin from an Atlantic City apartment will not face the death penalty, the U.S. attorney general has decided.

Ruffin, 19, was forced from her cousin’s Back Maryland home March 26, 2011, because she recognized one of the masked robbers, the criminal complaint alleges. A little more than three weeks later, college rowers practicing on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River came across her body, a gunshot wound to her head and a handcuff on her ankle.

Six people were arrested that October, three of them allegedly involved in the kidnapping and killing of the mother of a young son. Although New Jersey abolished capital punishment, the federal charges allowed for a possible death sentence. That decision is made by the U.S. attorney general.

“You are authorized and directed not to seek the death penalty against Shamerria Smith, Aziz Sanders and Deshawn Hicks,” Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to New Jersey’s U.S. attorney in a letter dated June 4.

The defendants were in federal court in Camden on Wednesday for a status conference in the case. In addition to discussion of the death penalty decision, it was also made publilc that the parties are in negotiations to plead guilty in the case.

Smith, then 24, allegedly planned the break-in at the home, which was known to deal waki — marijuana dipped in PCP or embalming fluid. The three burst into the house armed with guns and wearing masks, and duct-taped the five women inside, the complaint states. Money and drugs were taken, and cell phones destroyed.

Ruffin was targeted after she recognized one of the attackers, two of the victims told police.

“Shamerria, why are you doing this to me?” Nadirah Ruffin is quoted as asking Smith in the complaint. “You know me.”

Smith’s reply: “Now we got to take the (expletive)” and “Now we have to kill the (expletive).”

Family helped conceal the crime, according to pleas already made in the case. Three other men — all of whom share the last name of the victim but actually are related to Smith and Sanders — were arrested for their parts after the kidnapping.

Smith’s father, Ronnie Ruffin, admitted in October that he knew Nadirah was shot and killed after being driven to Philadelphia, then lied to law enforcement. His brother Henry Ruffin made the same admission two months earlier.

Both also admitted they then went to their nephew Isiah Ruffin to find out what he knew. Family members previously said the men went to Isiah in a “tough love” effort to get him off drugs.

Isiah Ruffin is accused of lying to investigators. He was released on bond in December 2011. Isiah was beaten by the boyfriend of Nadirah’s cousin, sparking the planned attack, the criminal complaint states.

In addition to the kidnapping charge, Smith, Sanders and Hicks are charged with robbery — which carries as long as 20 years in prison — and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

609-272-7257

Follow @LyndaCohen on Twitter

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.