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Gang Member Sentenced to Life for Newark Schoolyard Killings

Jersey Gang Member Sentenced To Life For Schoolyard Killings
Terrence Aeriel, Ioefemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey

NEWARK, N.J. (CBS/WCBS/AP) There were tears and anger Thursday as Melvin Jovel, a gang member who admitted pulling the trigger in the execution-style murders of three college students in a schoolyard, was sentenced to life in prison.

The 21-year-old pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and weapons charges days before his trial was to begin in September.

Prosecutors said Jovel, an illegal Honduran immigrant, and five other young men lined up Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey, both 20, and 18-year-old Terrance Aeriel, against a schoolyard wall in Newark and shot each of them in the back of the head on a summer night in 2007.

Police said Jovel and 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, but Jovel and at least two of the other suspects had lived in an apartment complex across the street from the scene of the slayings.

According to CBS affiliate WCBS, a fourth victim survived and testified at the first trial in the case that she was sexually assaulted, slashed with a machete and shot in the head.

She also spoke in court Thursday, thanking Jovel for "allowing me to get closer to Christ" before chastising him for refusing to look at her as she spoke.

"You and your homies had a plan for me, you wanted me dead - but I'm still here," said the woman. "Have fun living your fancy life in jail," she added.

Four other defendants are in jail awaiting trial.