BRIDGETON — A change-of-venue hearing for murder suspect Peter Henriques on Friday turned in a testy debate between the judge handling the case and a crime victims' advocate who opposes moving the case to another county.
New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center Executive Director Richard Pompelio planned to argue that moving the case would violate the civil rights of the family of victim Nielsa Mason by forcing them to travel to another county for future court proceedings.
The Mason family lives in the Cumberland County seat. Members of the family, whom Pompelio represents, were in court Friday.
Pompelio's request was supported by Cumberland County Executive Assistant Prosecutor Linda Lawhun, who told Superior Court Judge David Krell that Pompelio "represents the victims to make sure their voices are heard" during the legal proceedings.
But Krell would not allow Pompelio to make his argument, saying that doing so would allow a "private prosecutor" to improperly impose himself in the case.
"I'm troubled by this," Krell said. "What right do you have to participate in this issue?"
That produced a testy exchange between Krell and Pompelio, with the latter sometimes throwing up his hands and raising his voice. Pompelio at one point told Krell he was violating state laws regarding victims' rights by prohibiting him from making the argument.
"Essentially, you are wrong," Pompelio told Krell.
Pompelio told Krell he had made arguments earlier in the Henriques case. One argument involved an unsuccessful attempt to have Mason family members wear buttons in the courtroom that displayed their daughter's picture.
Pompelio became especially upset when Krell said he never read Pompelio's legal brief on why a change-of-venue motion by defense attorney Robert Luther should be denied. Krell said he first wanted to determine whether Pompelio could even participate in the arguments.
"I don't believe you have standing on this issue," said Krell, who had to tell Pompelio to stop interrupting his speech.
Luther's argument against allowing Krell to participate in the hearing was brief: He said the only people allowed under state law to prosecute criminal cases in New Jersey are the state attorney general and county prosecutors.
"There is no authority that allows a private attorney to stroll in the courtroom ... and make arguments to the court," Luther said.
Krell eventually delayed hearing the change-of-venue motion. Krell gave Pompelio until Friday to give him a legal brief on why he should participate in the motion, and said he would rule on the issue Sept. 23.
Henriques, 30, of the Gouldtown section of Fairfield Township, is charged in connection with the 1997 beating death of Mason, 16, who was his high school track teammate.
Mason's beaten and bloody body was discovered in Cumberland Regional High School's boys locker room. Authorities said Mason was killed after a team practice.
Jurors found Henriques guilty of Mason's murder two years after the incident, and he was sentenced to 30 years in state prison. That sentence was overturneed in 2006, when the Appellate Division of Superior Court ruled law-enforcement officials violated Henriques' rights by interviewing him without an adult being present. The appeals court also found that the jury should not have heard a confession by Henriques.
A Cumberland County grand jury returned another murder indictment against Henriques two weeks ago.
On Friday, Krell dismissed the original indictment.
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