One in four men convicted of the death of a 14-year-old New Jersey girl who was shot dead in a takeaway restaurant nearly five years ago was re-sentenced to half the original sentence.
NorthJersey.com reports that Superior Court Judge Carol Novey Catuogno sentenced Nyje Johnson, now 26, to a 10-year prison sentence on Friday after agreeing to a plea deal on reduced manslaughter charges.
Authorities said Johnson was among four gang members who opened fire on a Paterson takeaway restaurant in September 2014, killing 14-year-old Nazerah Bugg, a budding basketball star and innocent bystander. Bugg’s 15-year-old friend was also hit by the gunfire, but survived.
In 2017, Johnson and a co-defendant were convicted of conspiracy to murder and gun crimes. An appeals court dismissed the convictions last year, saying the jury’s selection for their trial was not “racially neutral” and prosecutors appeared to favor “a significant number of conservative white men”.
Prosecutors said Friday that they may never know which of the four gunmen fired the shots they claim were ordered by gang leaders in retaliation for another shooting that day that injured a gang member.
“What we do know, judges, is that at the end of the night, a little girl – 14 years old – was lying on the street and another 15-year-old was struggling for her life in the hospital,” said Jorge Morales, a senior assistant prosecutor for Passaic County.
The judge on Friday rejected arguments from the defense that the six years he had spent behind bars were enough. Defense attorney Landry Belizaire said his client, who had no criminal record, was present but never fired his gun.
“He made a mistake in his life when he was 19,” said Belizaire. “In my opinion, that’s what paid off his debt to society. He was deprived of his early adulthood. “
However, the judge said the 10-year sentence is the same as what the other armed men received.
“I hope you appreciate the extent of what you’ve done,” she said to Johnson.
Family members said Bugg, an eminent basketball player at John F. Kennedy High School, dreamed of playing in the WNBA. Her death came about two months after a 12-year-old Paterson girl was killed by a stray bullet, causing many residents to urge authorities to do more about the ongoing violence in the city.
The case was moved from Passaic District to Bergen District because a relative of the victim worked in the Criminal Division of Passaic District Court.