NEWARK, N.J. – The third of six defendants in a schoolyard triple murder was sentenced Thursday to more than 200 years in prison by a judge who cast aside his argument that he was coerced into the attack by an older half-brother who was the head of a violent street gang.
Alexander Alfaro was 16 at the time of the 2007 killings that shocked New Jersey's largest city and led to anti-crime reforms. He was convicted last month on 16 of 17 counts related to the attack.
On Thursday, Alfaro received 60 years each on two of the murders and 75 years on the third murder, to run consecutively. He also was sentenced to a consecutive term of 17 years for armed robbery.
The three victims — Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower — were attending or about to attend Delaware State University. A fourth friend survived being shot and slashed with a machete.
Relatives of the victims spoke in court Thursday of the toll the murders have taken on their lives. Hightower's mother, Shalga, wept loudly as state Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin described evidence that Alfaro slashed the young woman so deeply the machete became embedded in her skull.
Two other defendants are serving consecutive life sentences for the murders, including Alfaro's half-brother, Rodolfo Godinez. Three defendants are jailed awaiting possible trial dates.
Prosecutors have said the attack was orchestrated by Godinez, a self-professed leader in the violent MS-13 street gang. All six suspects were apprehended within two weeks of the slayings.
Alfaro admitted to police after his capture that he slashed Hightower with the machete before she and the others were shot. But on the witness stand, he denied doing it and said he was pressured by a detective to change his statement to conform to what other defendants had already told police.
He also testified that he was coerced by Godinez into bringing the machete to the Mount Vernon School playground. Alfaro admitted joining the gang several months before the crimes, but testified he was shocked that night when he realized what was happening.
Ravin conceded that Godinez applied some pressure on Alfaro but that the severity of the crimes far outweighed any coercion for sentencing purposes.
"The barbarity of what was done to these victims merits paramount weight," he said.
The victims were robbed at gunpoint before they were led down a set of stairs and made to kneel against a wall before being shot.
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