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Trial Begins For 3rd Defendant In Newark Schoolyard Slayings

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From left: Victims Terrence Aeriel, Ioefemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey (credit: CBS)

From left: Victims Terrence Aeriel, Ioefemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey (credit: CBS)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The trial of a Newark man accused in the schoolyard slayings of three college-bound friends more than three years ago got underway Tuesday.

It was the second trial in the Newark schoolyard killings case, which brought the violence-plagued city into the national spotlight.

Alexander Alfaro was among six men charged in the brutal killings of three college-bound friends in 2007. Alfaro, who was 16 at the time, faces 17 counts including murder, felony murder, robbery, conspiracy and weapons offenses stemming from the grisly attacks that killed Terrance “T.J.” Aeriel, 18; Iofemi Hightower, 20, and 20-year-old Dashon Harvey behind Newark’s Mount Vernon School the night of Aug. 4, 2007. Another female victim was also left for dead, but survived.

The victims were each robbed, slashed, lined up against a wall behind Newark’s Mount Vernon school and shot in the back of the head.  Prosecutors said both women were also sexually assaulted. They were enrolled or planning to enroll at Delaware State University.

The mother of Iofemi Hightower sat in court Tuesday just as she did for the first trial of Rodolfo Godinez, who was convicted of murder in the case and sentenced in July to three consecutive life sentences for the killings.

“I don’t ever want the world to forget my daughter as well as her friends.  They were good kids — they had ambitions, they had goals,” Shalga Hightower told CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman.

Alfaro’s lawyer did not try to soften the case for the jury Tuesday, but said no DNA or prints could tie Alfaro to the murder scene.

Attorney Raymond Morasse, representing Alfaro focused on Alfaro’s statement to police after his arrest in Virginia two weeks after the killings. Alfaro was held for 16 hours before he made a videotaped statement, Morasse claimed. He questioned whether Alfaro had been given his rights or interrogated during that initial period.

None of the physical evidence “in any way shape or form relates to Alexander Alfaro or implicates him in this horrible tragedy,” Morasse told jurors.

In the afternoon, jurors heard testimony from Michael Yancey, whose house abuts the schoolyard and who heard the survivor cry out at about 11 p.m. on the night of the murders. Yancey testified he saw “five or six” young men running from the scene. Paramedic Derron Brice also described to jurors how the survivor, who had been shot and slashed and “looked dead” when he arrived, revived after being given a breathing tube.

That lone survivor is expected to take the stand to testify on Wednesday.

Another defendant, Melvin Jovel, 21, pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and weapons charges days before his trial was to begin last September. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 20 years.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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