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Jury Selection Begins For Final Defendant Charged In 2007 Newark Murder Case

From left: Victims Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey (credit: CBS 2)

From left: Victims Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey (credit: CBS 2)

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NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - Jury selection has started in the case of the final defendant to stand trial in the 2007 execution-style murders of three college-bound people at a Newark playground.

Gerardo Gomez, who was 15 at the time, was the youngest of six men and boys charged in the case. The deaths brought national attention to violent crime in New Jersey’s largest city and helped spur a host of anti-crime measures, such as a network of surveillance cameras in dangerous areas.

Three of six defendants, most of whom were admitted members of the MS-13 street gang, were convicted at trial. Two more pleaded guilty.

Jury selection in Gomez’s trial began on Friday and may last two weeks, with the trial possibly running through next month, the Star-Ledger reported. His case was waived to adult court and he faces life in prison if convicted of murder and felony murder.

Analysts told the newspaper that Gomez’s case will be the most challenging for prosecutors, since there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the only clear eyewitness is a former co-defendant. Also, an appellate court has ruled that Gomez’s statement to police may not be allowed at trial because his Miranda rights were not properly administered.

“This is the hardest of the six,” said Shalga Hightower, whose daughter, Iofemi, was among those killed. “We’re hoping for the best but expecting the worst.”

Authorities often note that the young victims were killed in the same environment they had appeared to have escaped. None had gang ties, and all were either enrolled in or planned to attend Delaware State University.

Iofemi Hightower, Dashon Harvey and Terrance “T.J.” Aeriel had gone to the playground to hang out and listen to music shortly before they were slain. A fourth victim was slashed and shot but survived. The Associated Press is not identifying the victim because of sexual assault charges against two of the defendants.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 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.)