TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A jury has convicted a 20-year-old man of murder in the death of a Lakewood police officer who was shot to death as he sat behind the wheel of his police cruiser last year.
On the second day of deliberations, a Superior Court jury in Toms River found Jahmell Crockam guilty of murder and weapons offenses in the Jan. 14, 2011 shooting death of Patrolman Christopher Matlosz.
Crockam, who also is awaiting trial for another, unrelated murder that took place a few months before the officer was killed, could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said Crockam shot Matlosz after the officer drove up alongside him on August Drive last January. They said Crockam then opened fire, shooting the 27-year-old officer three times at close range.
“On Jan. 14 last year, that man, the defendant Jahmell Crockam, in broad daylight and in cold blood, executed Officer Christopher Matlosz of the Lakewood Police Department,” Chief Assistant Ocean County prosecutor William Heisler said during the trial. “The defendant was trying to avoid arrest and that’s why he committed this murder.”
Tanya Cook Peteete, the mother of one of Crockam’s friends, testified that Crockam told her a month before Matlosz was shot that he would kill a police officer rather than go to prison.
Peteete testified that Crockam left court without making a scheduled appearance in December 2010, and that she urged him to return before authorities issued an arrest warrant for him.
“He said he wasn’t going back to the court,” Cook Peteete testified. “He just said he’s not going back to jail. If he’s going to jail, it’s going to be for killing a cop.”
Prosecutors presented evidence including witness testimony from two residents of the street where the killing took place who identified Crockam as the man they saw blast the officer three times with a gun.
“Then, to make sure he was dead, he put the gun a few inches from his head and fired a shot into Officer Matlosz’s temple,” Heisler told the jury.
Heisler also said Crockam had confessed several times to acquaintances that he shot and killed the officer.
Crockam’s lawyer, Mark Fury, elected not to present a defense. Throughout the trial, he maintained that there was no reliable evidence or witnesses who could identify Crockam as the shooter.
“There ain’t no DNA. There ain’t no good fingerprints. There ain’t no good witnesses. Officer Matlosz was killed by a guy in dark clothing,” Fury said during the trial. “And that’s all they have.”
The murder weapon was never recovered; one of Crockam’s acquaintances testified it was thrown into the Delaware River.
Matlosz was on his first day of the afternoon shift after transferring from night patrol. He was also engaged to be married.
Matlosz’ fiancée, Kelly Walsifer, was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
“Chris was present in the room,” she said. “He was with us, with all of us. He can rest in peace now.”
Before joining the Lakewood Police Department, Matlosz worked as a police officer in Englishtown, a Monmouth County suburb and as a Class 2 special police officer in Freehold Township, Manasquan and Long Branch on the Jersey shore.
His death was the second shooting incident involving a Lakewood police officer in recent years.
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