NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Few in the courtroom this morning expected to hear the words so soon.
After making sure a juror who fell ill last week was better, state Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves announced around 10 a.m. that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of Timothy Puskas. The New Brunswick resident had pleaded not guilty to killing Billy McCaw, a former Rutgers student, in February 2014 and then disposing of the weapon.
The room sat mostly silent, with whispers floating among seated cops and attorneys, as the jury walked in. Last Friday, jurors complained that the deliberations had grown stressful. Minutes before the verdict was delivered, both the defense and the prosecution discussed the possibility of substituting in an alternate juror.
But the jury’s foreman then stood up and announced the decision: They found Puskas guilty on all four murder, weapons and hindering charges.
Some jurors appeared to wipe tears from their eyes as the proceedings progressed.
“We take no joy in the verdict because no matter what the outcome was, it wasn’t going to bring Billy back,” the victim’s dad, Bob McCaw, later said outside the courtroom as tears trickled down his cheeks. “There’s relief that other students and young people are safer for this verdict, and that Mr. Puskas will not be on the streets to hurt any more people.”
Upon hearing the verdict, some members of the victim’s family broke out into tears and hugs. For them, Bob McCaw said, the guilty verdict meant justice had been served.
Although Puskas, 41, sat with his back to observers, he looked down toward the ground and appeared stone-faced when cops cuffed his wrists and ankles.
He lived on Plum Street in New Brunswick, a block from the Hartwell Street backyard where McCaw’s battered body was found on the morning of Feb. 15, 2014.
The prosecution claimed Puskas used a tool to kill McCaw and got rid of the weapon before detectives caught on to him. Puskas, the state claimed, killed the young man because he was angry about thefts from his bank account.
“There is no justifying such a brutal and senseless murder,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said in a written statement. “However, I hope that the guilty verdict gives Billy’s family and friends some sense of closure and peace.”
Upon hearing the verdict, Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Bina Desai began wiping tears from her eyes. She tightly hugged her colleagues and McCaw’s family members.
There was a sense of relief among the prosecution and McCaw’s supporters. The trial, which began with jury selection in October and spanned 14 hours of jury deliberations, was over.
Bob McCaw and his wife, who listened to the verdict over a cellphone while she cared for a sick child, spent more than 10 weeks in the courtroom, away from their home in Tennessee.
“I get to go home,” the father told reporters outside the courtroom, thanking prosecutors, detectives and his son’s supporters. “We’ve had friends and family in the courtroom every single day throughout this process. I’ve said many times that I don’t know how anybody goes through this kind of thing alone.”
No such relief exists for Puskas. He remains in custody, serving seven years for a prior fatal hit-and-run conviction.
He will be sentenced to serve between 30 years and life in prison for the murder of McCaw. The state has yet to schedule a sentencing date.
Though more symbolic than anything, Nieves revoked Puskas’s bail following the guilty verdict.
Attorney Joseph Mazraani, who represents Puskas, could not immediately be reached for comment. Throughout the trial, Mazraani claimed that his client had been framed by roommates who thought Puskas planned to inform the police of a burglary ring with which they were involved.
Prior to the verdict, Mazraani said he believed a lack of jury instructions regarding an edited audio recording that was submitted as evidence could constitute a mistrial.
Whether Puskas will appeal the jury’s decision remains unclear.
Before discharging the jury, Nieves praised the members for fulfilling their civic duty.
“You went above and beyond,” he told them, noting the lengthy nature of the trial.
McCaw was killed after a night of partying at Rutgers frat houses. Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil in his honor shortly after he was beaten and left for dead.
For now, McCaw’s friends and family plan to focus on keeping alive the popular college student’s legacy. They have started a scholarship and a soccer tournament in his name.
“Billy’s memory lives on,” Bob McCaw said. “As long as I’m alive, we will carry that on.”