Rashawn & Beyond: Anti-Violence News for Queer People of Color

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund aims to establish a sustainable tribute to Rashawn that promotes critical thought about the impact of violence and intolerance, particularly upon queer communities of African descent.

Through this blog, we provide action alerts, event postings and breaking news as a means of informing these communities in ways that enable them to combat racism and homophobia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Newark triple murder involved sexual assault, 'penetration'

Slain college students planned to attend Gay Pride event
Washington Blade

One of four college students shot execution style in a Newark, N.J., schoolyard in August 2007, the day before they planned to attend a Gay Pride festival in New York, was sexually assaulted during the incident, according to new charges filed today against a defendant in the case.

Three of the students, two men and one woman, died at the scene from gunshot wounds to the head. A fourth student, a woman, was also shot in the head and left for dead, but survived and is cooperating with authorities.
The Essex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office today charged Shahid Baskerville, 16, with three counts of murder, three counts of aggravated sexual assault, and one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault, among other charges, in a crime that shocked the Newark community and attracted international media attention.

Paul Loriquet, a spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, said the victim of the sexual assault was a female but declined to disclose whether she was the female student who died or the one who survived the attack. Loriquet said the sexual assault, allegedly committed by Baskerville, involved “sexual penetration during a robbery and sexual penetration while armed.” He was also charged with one count of unlawful possession of a weapon – a machete.

Statements last year by Newark police and the city's mayor, Corey Booker, that the sole motive behind the murders appeared to be robbery drew sharp criticism from gay activists, who demanded that authorities investigate the incident as a possible anti-gay hate crime.

Friends said at least one of the victims, Dashon Harvey, 20, was an openly gay student at Delaware State University. The other slaying victims, Terrance "TJ" Aeriel, 18, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, were also enrolled at Delaware State. All three were lined up against a wall and shot in the head at point blank range while kneeling, police said.

Natasha Aeriel, who was shot in the head and left for dead, survived the attack and has been cooperating with police and prosecutors.

Within a month of the incident, police filed murder and robbery charges against six males, three of whom were juveniles. In January of this year, at the request of prosecutors, an Essex County judge ruled that one of the juveniles, Alexander Alfaro, 16, could be charged and brought to trial as an adult.

After months of deliberations by the county's juvenile court system, a judge today ruled that Baskerville, who was 15 at the time of the murders, and Gerardo Gomez, now 15, could also be charged and tried as adults. The two are scheduled for arraignment on April 24, where more details of their alleged role in the murders is expected to be released by prosecutors.

The others charged in the case are Melvin Jovel, who was 18 at the time of his arrest; Jose Carranza, who was 28 at the time; and Rodolfo Godinez, who was 24.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the statewide gay rights group Garden State Equality, joined Laquetta Nelson and James Credle, co-founders of the gay group Newark Pride Alliance, in criticizing Newark authorities for not responding to their repeated calls for investigating the Newark schoolyard murders as anti-gay hate crimes.
All three said they were outraged when they learned from the Blade today about the latest development in the case, that a sexual assault had allegedly been an element in the murders.

"We have been talking to the mayor's office and the police for months, asking them to keep us abreast of what is going on and whether any of this involves a hate crime," Nelson said. "Now we find out about this, and they didn't give us the respect and courtesy of calling us."

Nelson and Goldstein said the fact that one of the attackers allegedly sexually assaulted one of the female victims does not lessen the possibility of a hate crime because lesbians are sometimes sexually assaulted by male perpetrators in hate crimes.

"They say all we need is a good man to turn us around," Nelson said. "Many lesbians have been raped and beaten, and that's still a hate crime, even though it involves someone of the opposite sex."

Nelson and Credle said they were especially concerned that authorities were not investigating the possibility that a hate crime could be a part of the schoolyard murders because the victims' parents and the city's establishment don't want to grapple with the possibility that the victims were gay.

Police and the mayor's office have said the motive for the murders appears to be robbery because Natasha Aeriel reportedly told police that one or more of the six accused assailants stole some belongings from some of the victims.

But friends of the victims have said little of value appeared to have been taken and that all of the victims' wallets were left at the scene.

One of the victims' friends told the Blade that all four of the students, who were enrolled at Delaware State University, planned to join him in attending a black Gay Pride event in Queens, N.Y., the day following their deaths.

The friend, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said Dashon Harvey was openly gay and was out to his family. The friend said Iofemi Hightower did not identify herself as gay but "was pretty much like a tomboy."

The friend, who is also openly gay, said he and other friends find it hard to believe that the six assailants, some of whom had guns, would choose to kill the victims over a petty robbery. According to the friend, the mother of one of the victims said police told her that one or more of the assailants slashed the two male victims - Terrance Aeriel and Dashon Harvey - before shooting them to death.

"She thought it was more than just a robbery," the friend said.


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