MAYS LANDING — Three Camden men pleaded not guilty Thursday to an abduction from a casino parking garage last year that left a Middlesex County man dead and his girlfriend wounded.
Eric Darden, 21, Phillip Byrd, 20 and Raheem Simmons, 18, will now have monthly status hearings to make sure the case moves along to a trial date set in April, Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury said. Whether the men will be tried together or separately is still not decided.
The three were indicted in April on charges including murder, felony murder and kidnapping in the Sept. 18 attack that killed Sunil Rattu, 28, and wounded his girlfriend.
Rattu and Radha Ghetia, 24, were preparing to leave the Trump Taj Mahal that morning when three men approached them, according to the charges. Ghetia was forced at gunpoint to drive from the garage to an alley off the 500 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where the two were shot.
Police responding to a shots-fired call found Ghetia with a gunshot wound to the upper body. Rattu was dead in the back of the sport utility vehicle, shot multiple times.
Ghetia has identified Darden as the man with the gun, according to information previously released in court. On Thursday, he was brought in wearing black and white stripes, the mark of a high-risk prisoner.
All three men have had their bails revoked at the request of their attorneys — a technical move that insures the time they are serving is credited. All three have charges in Camden cases.
Simmons has two other murder charges related to a double killing in Camden in July, just 13 days after his 18th birthday. Darden faces a gun charge, and Byrd is currently serving a five-year sentence in Northern State Prison for gun possession. He is eligible for parole April 12, 2014.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Maher told the court he turned over about 50 CDs worth of evidence to the three attorneys Thursday. They also received some paperwork.
Ten men from Rattu’s family members attended Thursday’s hearings, where the three defendants were brought in separately. They did not wish to comment, a victim-witness advocate said.
Rattu’s death was the second fatal carjacking from the Taj Mahal within 16 months.
Martin Caballero, 47, of Hudson County, was carjacked by an Atlantic County couple, May 21, 2010, and then stabbed to death.
Jessica Kisby, 25, of Egg Harbor Township, and Craig Arno, 45, of Atlantic City, were sentenced in the murder last week.
Kisby received a 30-year sentence under a plea agreement in which she testified against Arno. The jury who heard her testimony found her accomplice guilty and he was sentenced to 120 years in prison. He would have to served a full century more before he would be eligible for parole. Arno maintains his innocence and is appealing.
The three men will be back in court June 28 for a status hearing. A decision whether to try them together or separately — and who would then go first — will be made by Aug. 30, DeLury said. The first trial is set for April 8.
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