A2 A2
New evidence frees 2 men serving life in double killing

TRENTON — Two men serving life sentences for a double killing 25 years ago, but whose convictions were recently thrown out because of evidence that cast doubt on their guilt, celebrated with relatives and friends after they walked out of prison.

Loved ones of Kevin Baker and Sean Washington waited for hours for their release Wednesday outside New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

A state appeals court ruled last month that new evidence cast doubt on the guilty verdicts against the pair, who were convicted of killing two people outside a Camden housing project in January 1995. The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office announced this month it would not seek to retry the men.

Baker and Washington had been serving life sentences with no parole eligibility for 60 years.

Some of the evidence used to overturn their convictions wasn’t available at their trial. For instance, specialized testing not in common use at the time led one expert to conclude in 2013 that the bullets had struck the ground and ricocheted before hitting one of the victims, contradicting the one eyewitness’ account of the shooting.

Other evidence could have been used but wasn’t, according to court documents. Alibi witnesses for both men weren’t called to testify, nor was a man who told police he was with the eyewitness and cast doubt on whether she saw the shooting.

Washington also contended he made a 911 call after noticing the two victims when he left a relative’s house to use a pay phone.

At a hearing in 2016, he testified no one obtained a copy of the call until 2013. His trial lawyer admitted he hadn’t known of the tape, according to court documents.

Forum focuses on mental health, substance abuse

In South Jersey, mental health and substance abuse are core concerns for voters, making it a key issue for Democratic candidates vying to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Amy Kennedy, one of those candidates, hosted a panel discussion Thursday morning at Enlightened Cafe in Ventnor to coincide with the rollout of her plan on the issues.

“We know how important the environment is, we know how important infrastructure is, we know how important our education system is, and housing and the economy,” said Kennedy, of Brigantine. “But I think we all know that our wellness is at the core of all those other issues, and that if we are not addressing mental health and wellness, if we are not addressing the deaths of despair that we are seeing every day, the rest of this (isn’t) gonna come together.”

Brigid Callahan Harrison, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, drew a distinction between Kennedy’s approach and her own.

“My focus is more on looking at public policy regarding mental health and substance abuse from a federal level,” she said, adding her policy priorities are in alliance with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Other Democratic candidates in the 2nd Congressional District race are Ashley Bennett, John Francis, Jack Surrency, Robert Turkavage and Will Cunningham.

Kennedy’s campaign event, in front of a few dozen attendees, included Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler, Atlantic City fire Chief Scott Evans and Jaime Angelini of the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County. The participants spoke about ending particular stigmas around mental health in their fields, recognizing early signs of trouble or trauma and the need to expand the availability of counseling and other treatment.

Kennedy, a former teacher and wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, formally released her proposal Thursday, which included a call for counselors and psychologists in every school, equipping first responders with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, promoting universal screening at all health care facilities, making opioid manufacturers pay for the harm caused by addiction, reforming the criminal justice system to steer people dealing with those issues toward treatment instead of prison and funding mobile outreach teams.

Scheffler provided proof of the power of mobile outreach. His office’s Hope One Mobile Outreach Team has helped get 618 people into treatment for substance abuse since its unveiling in 2018, he said. He also spoke to the connection between mental health, substance abuse and law enforcement.

“We know that in the criminal justice system itself that ... 50% of the people incarcerated today have some type of either addiction or mental health issue, and that’s certified numbers,” Scheffler said. “So if they’re certified numbers, you probably could say that those numbers are much, much higher than that.”

Harrison, of Longport, a professor of political science at Montclair State University, in an interview Thursday described her main goals for tackling the worsening issues of mental illness and substance abuse.

Her policy push would be a three-part proposal, she said. She would look to increase funds for research, both for the cause of mental illness and its treatment; protect access to services and treatment, particularly in the Department of Veterans Affairs, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder for patients in rural areas; and ensure “parity of access” between physical and mental illness both in private insurance and government-run insurance.

Kennedy framed mental illness and substance abuse as issues that can be tackled effectively, as they impact everyone in some regard.

“On this issue, it is bipartisan. We know how many people are being affected throughout the country, and we know it’s a place we can make progress,” Kennedy said. “We are just at the beginning of this effort.”

Who is running in the 2nd Congressional District race?

top story
Could Atlantic City be the future of national cybersecurity?

ATLANTIC CITY — Generous federal tax incentives are attracting investors and developers to the city with visions of creating a cybersecurity complex that would help move the local economy away from an over-reliance on tourism and casino gaming.

During the second annual Opportunity Zone Black Capitalism Fund Summit at the Showboat Hotel Atlantic City on Wednesday, interested investors, community leaders and entrepreneurs discussed how the city’s oceanfront location and federal Opportunity Zone program could be the catalysts for a new economic engine focused on cybersecurity, education and workforce development.

“This event can teach investors the kinds of opportunities we have here,” said James Whitehead, an Atlantic City resident and co-founder of the summit. “I believe that the type of investors that are here can help us drive about $3 billion of investment into Atlantic City to create America’s first cyber-triangle.”

Whitehead said the concept would include a national headquarters, a multi-use complex and residential housing for “cybersecurity warriors.”

Atlantic City’s proximity to several major metropolitan areas and the ocean make it a unique location for technology and aviation industries, Whitehead said.

“Right now, the Opportunity Zones in Atlantic City are in the Tourism District, which is where the ocean is,” he said. “If you’re the president of McDonnell Douglas or Lockheed Martin, would you like to wake up and look at the Atlantic Ocean or wake up and look at the concrete Pentagon?”

Atlantic City is one of 75 municipalities with designated Opportunity Zones in New Jersey under the federal government’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The federal program was designed to drive long-term capital investments into low-income urban and rural communities through attractive tax incentives.

The program has been scrutinized in some instances — such as the Rybovich marina project in West Palm Beach, Florida — for allowing well-connected and already wealthy individuals and corporations to capitalize from tax breaks while the poor communities that were supposed to prosper receive little, if any, benefit. New Jersey’s tax credit program has been subject to similar criticism.

But there are success stories. Washington, D.C., is one area where low-income neighborhoods are being developed through the Opportunity Zone program. Redbrick LMD, a D.C.-based development and real estate company, has been among those organizations taking advantage of the federal program, and its managing partner believes Atlantic City’s potential is similar to that of the nation’s capital.

“This city seems to be one of those places that could really benefit from the federal legislation,” said Louis Dubin, of Redbrick. “I think it’s just really important for those of us that are executing on these Opportunity Zone investments to get out and educate and tell people what’s going on.”

Atlantic City has four eligible Opportunity Zones — Chelsea, Ducktown/Boardwalk, Uptown and Downtown/Boardwalk, and South Inlet — based on the poverty rate and median family income of those areas.

Kaleem Shabazz, 3rd Ward councilman and president of the Atlantic City NAACP, said events like Wednesday’s summit are important to “let people know Atlantic City is open for business.” Shabazz also said an economic summit geared toward minority investors was important to demonstrate that communities such as Atlantic City, where blacks and Hispanics make up nearly 64% of the population, are not being marginalized when it comes to development opportunities.

“Diversity is always good. I’m glad that there are people of color here who want to invest, and we want to ensure them that Atlantic City is a place that they are welcome, that they can get a fair shake, a place that has a government that is going to be sensitive to their needs,” Shabazz said.

man gets probation in Stockton criminal sexual contact case
Wildwood man gets probation in Stockton criminal sexual contact case

MAYS LANDING — A former Stockton University student was sentenced to five years of probation Thursday after admitting to using his cellphone to take videos of a woman during a sexual act, which he posted on social media.

Zachary Madle, 26, also must complete 200 hours of community service on criminal sexual contact and invasion of privacy charges after pleading guilty last month.

During the sentencing, the court heard from the victim, who called Madle a monster who should be in jail.

“Every single night since you raped me, I have not been able to sleep without nightmares,” said the woman, identified as M.R. in court documents. “You are vile. You deserve to rot in a cell with the only thoughts being, ‘Was it worth it?’”

Madle, a Wildwood bartender and Stockton graduate, stared straight ahead while M.R. and her mother read victim witness statements addressing the pain and trauma the incident caused.

“I just would like to convey my deepest apologies,” Madle said when Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. asked whether he wanted to make a statement during the hearing. Madle wore a black suit and a purple-striped tie, his hands clasped in front of him.

The sentence was the result of a negotiated plea deal. Because Madle doesn’t have a history of prior offenses, even if the case had been taken to trial, there would be a presumption that he wouldn’t face jail time, Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Flammer said, adding he told the victim that “you’re not going to find perfect justice as a result of this court case, but you’ll find some measure of justice and some measure of closure.”

A handful of family members and friends sat in the gallery, some sitting with M.R. and others sitting on the opposite side of the room, behind Madle.

“You may look respectable in your nice suit and tie, but the truth is you are a predator and you are a rapist,” M.R.’s mother said, adding she is disheartened he isn’t facing jail time and believes he will rape again.

“Zachary, you are a rapist and a thief,” she said, turning in her chair to look at Madle. “I don’t care what kind of plea bargain you were lucky enough to negotiate, but it doesn’t change the fact that you raped my daughter.”

Madle’s attorney, Steve Scheffler, said Madle’s remorse was genuine, and that he will never be able to forgive himself.

“Quite frankly, he’s incredibly ashamed for his actions and for what he’s done,” Scheffler said. “He makes absolutely no excuses for what he’s done. He takes full responsibility.”

During a plea last month, Madle admitted that on Feb. 15, 2017, he was in M.R.’s dorm room on Stockton’s Galloway Township campus and used his cellphone to take unsolicited videos or photos of the victim during a sexual act and then posted those videos or photos to Snapchat. He also admitted he had sexual contact with the victim to “humiliate and degrade her.”

In his ruling, DeLury said he had fashioned a sentence that “addresses the needs to correct this defendant and give the victim some measure of completeness in this case.”

He also highlighted the use of social media in the case, saying that “among the greater harms of modernity is the millennial need to post everything from the ridiculous to the criminal to social media. By recording his misconduct on social media, this defendant has reproduced perhaps into eternity the harm to this victim” and that the only value in it was “to provide the prosecution of incontrovertible evidence of his criminality.”

During a portion of her statement directed at Madle, M.R. spoke about how she had aspirations of becoming a state trooper, but the assault left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

“You almost killed me that night,” she said. “Not only with what you posted and how that affected me, but the fact that you left me as I was already throwing up. … Imagine if I did roll onto my back. This would be a murder charge.”

She said her new goal is to become a detective, “so I can help convict more rapists like you and advocate for change in this criminal justice system, because you should not be walking away with probation.”

A federal civil lawsuit filed in July 2018 alleging Madle raped her while she was unconscious and that he posted videos of the sexual assault on his Snapchat account was settled in November.

Robert Fuggi, M.R.’s lawyer, said the details of the settlement were confidential.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

Brigid Callahan Harrison, Professor, Montclair State University at Murphy’s Marks: The Governor’s Freshman Report Card at the Atlantic City Convention. Nov. 14 , 2018, (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)