Nahquil Lovest

Before he was charged in the fatal shooting of Na’imah Bell, Nahquil Lovest, 18, of Pleasantville, had juvenile charges against him including receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, robbery and conspiracy.

MAYS LANDING — Nahquil Lovest was playing with what he thought was an unloaded gun last month when he pointed it at Na’imah Bell’s head and pulled the trigger, Lovest’s attorney said Wednesday morning, calling the 15-year-old’s fatal shooting an accident.

“He was cooperative with the police,” Alex Settle told Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. “He informed them that this was an accident. He acknowledged he was playing with the gun. He acknowledged that he unloaded the gun. He believed that he had taken all of the bullets out.”

Lovest, 18, of Pleasantville, appeared before DeLury for a detention hearing, where Settle unsuccessfully argued for the murder charge stemming from the July 25 fatal shooting to be dismissed, saying manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter would be more appropriate. He also argued for Lovest’s pretrial release, but was denied.

“He knew the gun was loaded,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy said. “He knows how many shells were in the gun. … He knew that by pointing the gun and pulling the trigger, it was likely to cause death or would cause death.”

Levy said those in the room even told Lovest to stop pointing the gun around before he took the shells out, then fired the fatal shot.

The teen, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, kept his eyes downcast or level during the hearing. He didn’t speak.

Bell, also of Pleasantville, was shot in the head just before 4 a.m. July 25 inside a home in the 100 block of South Massachusetts Avenue in Atlantic City.

She was the third teenager to be killed by gunfire and the seventh victim overall of a fatal shooting in the city this year.

In his argument, Settle cited witness statements gathered by police, all of which described the scene as an accident. The witnesses, identified only by their initials in court, said Lovest “was joking” and thought he had taken all of the bullets out of the gun.

They said Lovest cried after the shot rang out, saying “he didn’t mean to do it.”

Levy countered Settle’s argument by saying those witnesses had no idea what was going on in Lovest’s mind at the time.

“Just because they use the term ‘accident’ because he wasn’t trying to steal or it wasn’t for revenge doesn’t make it the colloquial term ‘accident,’” he said. “That’s not how we work in the law.”

DeLury took about 30 minutes in his chambers to review the arguments before returning to deliver his decision: that the state had established there is reason to believe Lovest caused Bell’s death and did so knowingly.

“The defendant knew that the weapon was loaded,” DeLury said. “He may have removed some rounds, but he knew at that point that the weapon had rounds at one point and allowing from that fact the court to infer that the weapon was capable of causing death or serious bodily injuring resulting in death.”

After hearing arguments from the state and defense for and against pretrial detention, respectively, DeLury ruled Lovest would stay in jail pending trial, citing his “very extensive and violent juvenile record.”

The shooting occurred while Lovest was released on pending charges, Levy said. Juvenile charges against him include receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, robbery and conspiracy.

“This defendant’s conduct is escalating violently and sharply,” DeLury said. “He is a palpable danger to public safety.”

Lovest is being housed in the Atlantic County jail.

Contact: 609-272-7241 mbilinski@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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