Final defendant in '07 Newark schoolyard murders gets 195 years

The victims of the 2007 Newark schoolyard murders, from left: Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower, Dashon Harvey.
CBS New York

(CBS/AP) NEWARK, N.J. - The final defendant convicted in a brutal schoolyard attack that killed three college-bound friends and left a fourth seriously wounded was sentenced Wednesday to 195 years in prison.

Gerardo Gomez was one of six men and boys who pleaded guilty or were convicted in the execution-style murders at a Newark school playground the night of Aug. 4, 2007.

A jury convicted Gomez last November on multiple counts including robbery, murder and attempted murder.

Attorney Michael Robbins had argued at the sentencing that Gomez, who was 15 on the night of the murders, should receive a shorter sentence because of his age and because he didn't wield a knife or gun used in the attacks.

Four other defendants are serving multiple consecutive life sentences. The fifth received 30 years in exchange for his testimony.

Gomez's attorney had argued that he was a bystander at the Mount Vernon School playground, but prosecutors contended that he never tried to leave the scene and acted as a lookout while the victims were robbed.

After robbing the four, the defendants led three of them - Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey - down a set of steps and forced them to kneel against a wall before shooting them, according to the suspects' statements and the survivor's testimony.

In a previous trial, the lone survivor of the attack testified that she was sexually assaulted, slashed with a machete and shot in the head, CBS New York reports.

According to CBS New York, prosecutors said several of the defendants were engaging in an initiation ritual for members of the MS-13 street gang. The men did not know the victims, prosecutors said in earlier trials of the defendants.

The publicity surrounding the killings fast-tracked numerous anti-crime measures in Newark including surveillance cameras and gunshot detection systems. The killings also led state officials to grant police the authority to refer violent crime suspects' names to immigration authorities if they are suspected of being in the country illegally.

Gomez's conviction isn't the final legal proceeding stemming from the killings. A lawsuit filed by the victims' families, accusing the school district of negligence for leaving the playground open at night when it was a known gang hangout, is in jury selection this week.

More on Crimesider
November 5, 2010 - Gang member sentenced to life for Newark schoolyard killings