MAYS LANDING — On the day Deanna Downs would have turned 30, two men accused of taking money to kill the Egg Harbor City mother of two had their first appearance in Atlantic County Superior Court. 

A third man — tied to a previous killing in the same neighborhood where Downs was killed — also is charged. 

Downs, 29, was found dead early Oct. 17, 2010, behind her home in the Harbor City Apartments. The medical examiner first ruled the cause of death was blunt-force trauma but later determined she had been shot.

Mario Adams, 28, of Hammonton, is accused of shooting Downs in the face Oct. 16 in an attack planned with Dontay Matthews and Rafael Olmo for which they were paid, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Donio said as he read the charges. How much money they allegedly received for the crime, or who paid them, was not made public Thursday.

Olmo, 27, of Egg Harbor City, was previously charged in the Oct. 12, 2009, shooting death of Sandy Thomas, 30, at the same apartment complex. Thomas’ cousin Shawn Travis, 24, was severely wounded in that shooting. Olmo was arrested in Philadelphia the next day and charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Court records show he was indicted only on the weapons charge. That case is still pending.

Olmo’s attorney, John Zarych, said he had not been notified of the new charges against his client. 

“My client absolutely, categorically denies having anything to do with (the 2009 shooting),” Zarych said Thursday. “And I would imagine that is still his position (in this new case). I’ll see what the charges are and discuss them with him.”

Adams and Matthews, 21, of the Elwood section of Mullica Township, were arrested Wednesday night and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Adams was additionally charged with murder, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

Olmo is currently in federal custody, and was expected to receive the charges sometime Thursday.

Adams and Matthews appeared separately before Donio on Thursday afternoon. Both men indicated they would apply for public defenders. 

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill presented the case before Donio. Adams seemed surprised by the charges.

“They’re saying all of these things took place in Egg Harbor City,” Adams told Donio. “Your Honor, I don’t know why they would say anything of this nature.”

The judge said the charges are the authorities alleging crime. 

“Do you understand that?” Donio asked. 

“Alleging,” Adams repeated. “Yes, I do.” 

Adams also asked for a copy of his rights. 

“I was pretty overwhelmed to maintain what you said, Your Honor,” Adams said. “Can I have that in writing?” 

After a sheriff’s officer gave him a copy of his rights, Adams said, “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, so I’m really trying to obtain much knowledge.”

Downs’ killing was Atlantic County’s 19th homicide of 2010, during which 21 people were killed. The arrests bring the number of those homicides considered solved to seven.

Matthews’ bail is set at $300,000, Adams’ at $1 million. They are lodged in the Atlantic County Jail.

It was not clear where Olmo was being housed or why he is in federal custody. The Prosecutor’s Office cannot comment on charges from another agency. Zarych said he is representing Olmo in that case, but would not provide details. A spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said she would look into the case, but had not gotten any information by the end of business Thursday.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

609-272-7257

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