ELIZABETH, NJ - "It was a crime of opportunity," Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said at a press conference held yesterday morning, Friday, July 30th. "The defendants saw he [Abelino Mazariego] had $640 in on cash on him and intended to rob him."
The Union County Prosecutor's Office held a press conference in Elizabeth Friday morning to present the facts of the Mazariego case as they are now know and to clarify any misconceptions surrounding the case. Romankow discussed the details of Mazariego's murder and announced that all involved have been identified and apprehended.
"We're confident we charged the correct number of people," Romankow said. "There will be no additional charges at this time."
Recently, the Summit Common Council voted to reduce the its police force by two officers, which, while controversial at the time, has become more so after Mr. Mazariego's murder. Romankow said during Friday's press conference that he learned the police force in Summit had been reduced due to budget cuts. "Summit recently cut their police force and that's a mistake. I think they should rehire the police to send a message. I want to point out to other wealthy towns in Union County that crime will be in your town too."
On the night of his murder, Saturday, July 17th, Mazariego left Dabbawalla-an Indian restaurant in downtown Summit where he worked as a dishwasher-at 7 p.m. He received his regularly scheduled paycheck of $640 in cash, and then walked to a local liquor store to buy alcohol before going to the downtown Summit Promenade. In the courtyard section of the Promenade Mazariego sat on a bench, drank his beverage and took off his shirt.
"It was a man unwinding after a long day of work," Romankow said. "We do not blame him, he was minding his own business at the time. In no way was the attack provoked."
Around 9 p.m. a group of 14 teenagers-five girls, nine boys, some of them Summit residents, some from other towns, saw Mazariego on the bench, intoxicated, and entered the Promenade.
"Somehow the group was shown the cash Mazariego had in his wallet. We're not sure how or why," Romankow said. Of the five who have been charged, "It was a crime of opportunity, they saw he was intoxicated, that he had money and a watch and decided they were going to take it."
"This isn't about him being Latino," Romankow said. "I think if this man were Caucasian, African American or Asian the same thing would have happened."
The unidentified 17-year-old charge in the case was the first to take a seat next to Mazariego on the bench, according to the Prosecutor. 18-year-old Khaayri Williams-Clark of Summit then walked up behind the victim. A shirt was put over Mazariego's head while Williams-Clark delivered the first punch to Mazariego's jaw. Nigel Duman, 19 of Morristown, hit the victim a second time.
After the hits all 14 ran, forgetting the cash and the watch. When they went back to the Promenade to retrieve them about 15 minutes later, the unconscious Mazariego had already been found.
Mazariego was then taken to Overlook Hospital where it was assumed he was there because of internal bleeding in his brain. He had never regained consciousness. At that time no one presumed his injuries were the result of a crime.
In the emergency room, Stephan Randolph, a registered nurse, stole the $640 in cash from Mazariego's wallet. Randolph has been arrested for third degree theft and is facing up to five years in prison. Currently out on bail, he has yet to appear in court.
Out of the fourteen teenagers who were there the night of the beating, five will be tried. The other nine, all minors-five girls from Morristown and four boys-have not been charged. Names and ages were not given.
"We believe they had no idea what was going to happen," Romankow said. "They saw a man intoxicated and were there to see what would happen."
One of the teenagers, not facing charges, videotaped and circulated the incident from his cell phone. "New Jersey laws are pretty black and white. In the case of the one who took the video, there is no evidence he is a co-conspirator," Romankow said. "We don't think he knew what was going to happen."
When questioned why the videographer isn't being charged for not preventing the crime Romankow responded, "same thing can be said of the press when they videotape a crime. You can't be charged for taking a picture of the act."
The video of the beating was circulated and on Tuesday, July 20th, a friend of a friend showed it to Mazariego's wife. Prior to this, no one knew of the beating aside from those involved, said the Prosecutor. It was still presumed Mazariego was unconscious in the hospital from a medical condition-which is why the public was not notified of the crime until that Tuesday. Mrs. Mazariego immediately alerted the police as to what had happened. Shortly thereafter, Mazariego died in the hospital, suffering from severe head trauma.
The Summit Police then tracked down the videographer.
"The taking of the video, the help of the Summit Police and through interviewing suspects, the Union County Homicide Task Force was able to apprehend all of those involved," Romankow said. "When I saw the video I do believe when they punched him they intended to kill, which is why we're trying to charge them with homicide, but that charge is still pending."
The charges for Williams-Clark, the 17-year-old, and Dumas-the ones who covered the victim's face and delivered the punches-have been upgraded from manslaughter to murder. At Friday morning's press conference, the charges were further upgraded to felony murder.
"The break in this case was when it came to light that they were intending to rob Mazariego -- that's when we could move the charges up from manslaughter," Romankow said.
Williams-Clark was previously released on $100,000 bail, but once the charges were upgraded, so was the bail. Williams-Clark has been re-incarcerated with bail now set at $250,000. Dumas has a bail of $300,000.
The Union County Prosecutor's office is petitioning to charge the 17-year-old as an adult.
Two additional unidentified minors were recently arrested for their involvement as lookouts during the assault. They are being charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and robbery. They are currently out on bail.