BRIDGETON — An attorney for one of the four men charged in the murder of Jennifer Trejo, 9, said witnesses described the girl’s death as a “tragic accident” Wednesday.
But prosecutors told a Superior Court judge that the bullet that struck and killed Trejo while she slept in her bedroom was the result of a volley of gunshots set off by the four men moments after they had walked onto the first block of Elmer Street on the morning of July 17.
Trejo was sleeping in her bedroom a block away at the time of the shooting.
While prosecutors didn’t say how many weapons were used, Cumberland County Senior Prosecutor Elizabeth Vogelsong said 19 shell casings were found at the scene.
“Ballistics will confirm multiple guns being used,” Vogelsong said Wednesday. “We know which gun ultimately would have killed Jennifer, and we know how many times that gun would have fired based on the shell casings.”
Vogelsong described the fatal shooting; several people were in the street and on the porch of a home when four men began firing.
The men then left the area, according to initial witness statements.
Michael L. Elliott, 25, of North Laurel Street in Bridgeton, and Charles Gamble, 18, of Salem County, were both remanded to Cumberland County jail Wednesday after their appearances before Judge Cristen D’Arrigo.
Gamble’s detention hearing was postponed to next week, while D’Arrigo decided to hold Elliot in jail until trial.
Elliot and Gamble, as well as Leroy Frazier III, 20, of Irving Avenue and Zahmere McKoy, 19, of Atlantic Street, are all charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and weapons offenses in the fatal shooting. If convicted, all four men face the possibility of a life sentence.
Although Elliot waived the probable cause portion of his hearing, his attorney, Teresa Ganim, argued that there was no intent, citing hours of witness statements alleging the slaying was an accident.
“When the police interviewed all of these witnesses, every single one of their statements was, ‘This was a tragic accident. We know that there was no intent to harm this 9-year-old girl. The bullet traveled a great distance.’”
For Jennifer’s parents, who sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery, it was the first time they had seen any of the men prosecutors allege are responsible for Jennifer’s death.
Both parents watched with stoic attention during the proceedings, but the pair, flanked by a court advocate and members of the prosecutor’s office, declined to give a statement after the hearings.
During Gamble’s appearance, Vogelsong argued that there are both video evidence and witness statements that place the four men on the block at the time of the shooting.
Police were able to identify Frazier and Gamble by “prior police contact” and their social media profile pictures, “where they’re actually wearing the same clothes in those pictures,” she said. Investigators used “data warrants for their Facebook accounts, and were able to see a message right after the shooting from Mr. Frazier to another co-defendant who was later charged, Mr. McKoy, indicating that they need to throw their clothing away.”
Although they do not have the actual shooting on video, the prosecutor’s office does have an eyewitness, she said, and when Gamble was arrested, a 9mm gun was found in his Lexus.
The gun is being tested in a lab along with a 9mm spent shell casing found in Frazier’s home, and a .357 revolver found in Elliot’s home.
Gamble’s attorney, Brian O’Malley, requested a postponement and D’Arrigo granted it, pushing the detention hearing until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
O’Malley and Ganim declined to comment after the hearings.
McKoy is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday before D’Arrigo.
Elliot and Frazier — who consented to pre-trial detention at a hearing on Friday — are both scheduled for a pre-indictment conference at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 before Judge Michael J. Silvanio.