Man convicted of killing NJ cop in fast-food drive-by wins appeal
NEWARK — A New Jersey appeals court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of killing an off-duty Newark police officer in 2011.
Prosecutors in the trial of Rasul McNeil-Thomas shouldn't have been allowed to show jurors video clips during closing arguments that weren't put into evidence earlier, according to the ruling released Thursday.
McNeill-Thomas was sentenced to 60 years in prison for killing Officer William Johnson, who was shot while standing in line at a fast-food restaurant in May 2011. Prosecutors said at the time that Johnson wasn't the target of the drive-by shooting, which instead came from an earlier brawl outside McNeil-Thomas's home. Several other people were injured in the shooting.
McNeil-Thomas has contended he wasn't the person who fired the shots.
A month before the drive-by shooting, McNeil-Thomas had been arrested on Union County charges of theft and resisting arrest. He was arrested again in May after the shooting.
At trial, prosecutors showed jurors video clips from numerous surveillance cameras that recorded portions of the crime as it happened. But defense attorneys argued that the trial judge shouldn't have allowed them to show other clips during their closing argument because it deprived the defense the opportunity to challenge them.
Prosecutors argued that the entire video recording containing the clips was admitted into evidence, and the judge agreed and denied the defense's motion for a mistrial.
The appeals court disagreed Thursday, rejecting the prosecution's argument that the jury would have convicted McNeil-Thomas regardless of whether the videos in question had been introduced.
"As defense counsel argued when moving for a mistrial, by waiting until summation to show the jury for the first time video about which there was no testimony, the prosecutor effectively denied defendant any opportunity to challenge the State's evidence or produce his own witnesses to rebut the claim," the judges wrote.
A spokeswoman for the Essex County prosecutor's office said the office was reviewing the court's decision.
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