ELIZABETH, NJ – Scott Peterson, assistant prosecutor in the trial for April Wyckoff’s murder, was honored as part of the county prosecutor’s office’s National Crimes Victims’ Rights Week.
Peterson was honored along with Ted Merced, a veteran detective, and Azucena “Susie” Arias, a victim/witness advocate who handles sensitive matters, according to a press release from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
“Scott, Ted, and Susie represent the absolute best of our office – they view their work as a calling,” acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan said in the press release. “It’s fitting that they receive this deserved recognition during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.”
According to the press release, Peterson, recipient of the Gladiator Award for an Assistant Prosecutor, joined the office’s Special Victims Unit in October 2016. He previously worked in the Homicide Task Force for five years, where he originally started work on State v. Matthew Ballister III. Ballister, of Union, was sentenced to 70 years in state prison for the murder of Wyckoff, a Cranford resident, in December 2017.
Ballister was arrested and charged with murder on October 24, 2013, following a joint investigation from the Union County Homicide Task Force, Union Police Department and Union County Sheriff’s Office. Three days later, Wyckoff’s remains were recovered in Newark, according to the press release.
In the following years, Peterson formed a close bond with Wyckoff’s family as they prepared for a six-week trial that took place last fall.
“What I have to say is not important,” Peterson was heard saying while preparing for Ballister’s sentencing, according to the press release. “The most important people in this room are the family. They will speak for April.”
Fellow Office nominees for the Gladiator Award for an Assistant Prosecutor included Cynthia Ritter, Susan Gleason, and Nicole Siano, according to the lress release.
Merced, recipient of the Gladiator Award for an Investigator, was honored for more than a decade of dedicated service in the Special Victims Unit, which he joined in 2007 after being sworn in as an office detective in 2001, according to the press release.
Merced is responsible for investigating incidents of domestic violence, testifying before the Grand Jury, taking statements from victims and witnesses, writing investigative reports, serving subpoenas, and more. He also routinely assists the Homicide Task Force, Special Prosecutions Unit, Narcotics Strike Force, Trial Unit, Special Victims Unit, and Juvenile Unit, among others, with Spanish-language translation of statements, according to the press release.
“But what Merced is known for best – aside from his ever-present smile – is a remarkable ability to connect with even the most reluctant of victims by making them feel at ease throughout the criminal justice process,” the press release reads. “It’s an invaluable trait for a detective to have, especially in a Unit that often sees cases that are unable to be adjudicated because victims ultimately decline to participate.”
Fellow Office nominees for the Gladiator Award for an Investigator included Sgt. Sofia Santos, Lt. Joe Vendas, and Detective Brian O’Malley, according to the press release.
Arias received the Endurance Award for her work in the office’s Domestic Violence Unit for the last five years. She is responsible for reviewing and providing orientation of cases for victims and witnesses, according to the press release.
Those responsibilities mean Arias is there to provide emotional support, ensure access to safe waiting areas, make sure a witness has enough bus fare and more, according to the press release.
“’Susie,’ as she is known in the office, was recognized for her ability to consistently lead victims from a feeling of powerlessness to a sense of empowerment, no matter how long the road,” the press release reads.
Fellow nominees for the Endurance Award included Stephanie Villavicencio, Maria Esteves, Kimberly Best-Parris, Rosalina Cerda-Lopez, and Maria Acosta, according to the press release.
For more information about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, go online to https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/.