NEWARK — Two career criminals who killed a Monmouth County college student during a botched robbery in a Newark frat house in 2016 will spend more than a decade behind bars.

Taquan Harris, 24, was sentenced to 24 years after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter and illegal possession of a weapon. Murder charges were dropped as part of the agreement, which Harris unsuccessfully tried to back out of.

His accomplice, Nafee Cotman, 21, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree armed robbery. The agreement dismissed the murder and weapons charges against him.

Their victim, Joseph Micalizzi, was a 23-year-old student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was studying on the third floor of the Kappa Epsilon fraternity house on Martin Luther King Boulevard when the duo burst into the home about 3:15 a.m. May 2, 2016.

Harris shot Micalizzi two times in a struggle, prosecutors said.

Taquan Harris and Nafee Cotman were convicted of killing NJIT student Joseph Micalizzi. (Essex County Prosecutor's Office)
Taquan Harris and Nafee Cotman were convicted of killing NJIT student Joseph Micalizzi. (Essex County Prosecutor's Office)

Micalizzi was a 2011 graduate of Howell High School and had attended Brookdale Community College. He was a mechanical engineering major at NJIT.

His homicide was the second slaying of a college student in University Heights that year. Rutgers University-Newark student Shani Patel, 21, of Toms River, was killed in April. Two men were charged with Patel’s murder.

Prosecutors said both robbers in the Micalizzi case had rap sheets stretching back to their teen years.

Harris had a juvenile case and six adult arrests. Cotman had 10 juvenile cases and five arrests as an adult. This homicide was the first time they were convicted of a crime as adults.

They must serve at least 85 percent of their sentenced before they are eligible for parole. Both already have spent more than 1,000 days behind bars since their arrests.

“Plea agreements are rarely completely satisfying for family members of the victims of violent crime, but we believe this was an appropriate resolution of this case," Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Eric Plant said Thursday in a prepared statement. "We hope that the sentencing today will allow the Micalizzi family to continue to focus on honoring the cherished memory of their son. He was an extraordinary young man, witnessed by the fact that more than 1,400 people attended his wake. He made an impact.’’

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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