MICHAEL A. ROBBINS
NEWARK — Shouts of joy and cries of anguish rose from both sides of the courtroom today when a jury in Newark acquitted an Irvington High School teacher of murder for fatally stabbing her boyfriend last year.
"Thank you. Yes!" one woman said, beaming as she clasped hands with others around her."I can’t believe it. No!" another woman yelled in disbelief, sobbing from across the aisle.It took just three hours for the jury to find Sharonda Wilson, 32, not guilty on all counts after the four-day trial.Wilson, an audio and video production teacher at Irvington High School, testified on her own behalf, claiming self-defense in the Sept. 30, 2010, killing.Wilson admitted she stabbed Erik Stubblefield, with a nine-inch kitchen knife she grabbed as he charged at her.
Stubblefield, she told the jury, had been in a rage, smashing a bed, tabletop and refrigerator door before setting his sights on her.Stubblefield, 38, suffered a 4½-inch stab wound through the heart and died at the scene.Today’s verdict followed closing arguments at which defense attorney Michael Robbins called Stubblefield a violent, abusive man.
"It was 229 pounds of fury who came after her, came for her," Robbins said. When she retreated to the kitchen, Stubblefield followed, then lunged at her, he said."She reached out for what was there. She grasped something," Robbins said, referring to the knife. "Suddenly, he was on her, and just as suddenly it was over." Wilson called 911 afterward.
What triggered Stubblefield’s anger remains unknown, though Robbins claimed the man had been drinking, and was abusive in the past. Stubblefield, a father of two from a previous relationship, lived in Delaware and had one domestic abuse charge from 2004.Stubblefield’s relatives and friends who wore yellow and red ribbons today, burst out of the courtroom after the verdict, some in tears, others visibly angry."You killed him and you get nothing! Nothing!" one woman cried out. She refused to give her name as did several others who were approached for comment. In the days after the killing, friends discredited Wilson’s self-defense story, calling Stubblefield "the ultimate peacemaker."
And in his closing argument, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Harry Moskowitz called the stabbing "murder in a rage, and the rage was hers."Moskowitz said the mother of three who was estranged from her husband at the time, stabbed Stubblefield after discovering he had been cheating on her.
Wilson used her theater production training to stage the scene like a play, Moskowtiz said, making it look like Stubblefield had torn up the apartment. "She wasn’t teaching that day but she was using her teaching background," he said, clutching the knife for the jury to see.But the jury’s swift verdict told a different story, and Wilson was also acquitted of two lesser manslaughter counts and two weapons offenses.In a statement after the verdict, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said the case "warranted bringing the matter to trial.
We stand by our decision to proceed in the manner we did," she said.Wilson, who had been out on bail, wept quietly when the jury foreman read the verdict. Outside the courtroom, her father, Phillip Brooks, huddled with about 40 supporters, including many from her local church."Thank God this is settled and it came out the right way," Brooks said. He hoped his daughter could get a "fresh start and move on," and the Stubblefield family "can find it in their hearts to forgive."
The Star-Ledger, (Newark, NJ)
Man found not guilty in drug-heist slayings
Newark murder trial ends in rapid acquittal
KATIE WANG STAR-LEDGER STAFF
Published: October 1, 2004
A jury has cleared an East Orange man in the slaying of two men in a drug heist in Newark in 2002.
The 12-member Superior Court jury deliberated for an hour before deciding unanimously Wednesday afternoon that Tewhan Butler was not guilty of killing Sean Taylor and Johnny Torres Colon Sept. 11, 2002. Butler was acquitted on charges of murder, felony murder, robbery and two weapons offenses.Butler's attorney, Michael Robbins, who during the two-week trial in Newark faulted how police had treated the crime scene, hailed the verdict and said the trial underscored "serious problems" in the way homicides are investigated in Essex County."It's emblematic because here - as in virtually all of these cases - there is a lack of the type of proof that jurors require and expect in matters this serious," Robbins said.
Eileen Cosgrove, the assistant Essex County prosecutor who handled the case, called Robbins' remarks inaccurate and irresponsible. She defended the homicide squads of the prosecutor's office and the Newark Police Department."They are overworked, understaffed and not given the necessary resources, due to the fact that budgetary appropriations for law enforcement have not kept pace with the increase of violent crimes and the rising expectations of jurors to provide forensic evidence they see on TV on shows like 'CSI' and 'Forensic Files,'" she said.Taylor, 31, known as "Sean D," and Colon, 20, were killed in the basement of Taylor's house on South 13th Street in Newark.
Taylor, a known drug dealer, was listening to music in the basement with friends when the shots were fired.Two people testified they saw Butler fleeing the scene. One said Butler was running down an alleyway, brandishing a gun. The other said he saw Butler running from the basement, clutching an unknown object in his hand.
Cosgrove said the state was unable to locate two other witnesses who were key to the prosecution's case.Robbins made police evidence the focal point of the trial. He said police failed to dust for fingerprints, check for footprints, find a weapon or collect DNA samples to help identify the gunman."In this case, the crime scene was handled in a sloppy, casual and, in our view, almost negligent fashion," said Robbins.Butler remains in custody, facing another murder charge. He also is facing racketeering charges, said Robbins.