A jury convicted 20-year-old Jahmell Crockam of murder Thursday in the death of Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz who was shot as he sat behind the wheel of his police cruiser last year.

Jahmell Crockam

The Superior Court jury in Toms River found Jahmell Crockam guilty of murder and weapons offenses in the Jan. 14, 2011, shooting death of Patrolman Christopher Matlosz. "He was killed for no other reason than that he had a badge and a uniform, "Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said.

Jahmell Crockam, who also is awaiting trial for another, unrelated murder that took place a few months before the officer was killed, could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors said Jahmell Crockam thought he was about to be arrested on outstanding warrants for weapons offenses, and killed the officer to avoid going to jail. Jahmell Crockam's lawyer maintained police arrested the wrong man.


Christopher Matlosz plaque

The verdict came on the second day of deliberations. Christopher Matlosz' fiancee, Kelly Walsifer, was in the courtroom when it was read. "Chris was present in the room," she said. "He was with us, with all of us. He can rest in peace now."

Prosecutors presented evidence including witness testimony from two residents of the street where the killing took place who identified Jahmell Crockam as the man they saw blast the officer three times with a gun.

Christopher Matlosz had just driven up alongside a man near an apartment complex in Lakewood and called for him to come over to the patrol car. The two neighbors testified the man they identified as Crockam walked up to the car, pulled a gun out of his pocket and shot the officer three times.

A massive manhunt involving more than 100 officers from numerous law enforcement agencies arrested Jahmell Crockam two days later. He was hiding in the apartment of a friend in Camden.

Several acquaintances of Crockam, including people who drove him to Camden after the shooting, testified that Crockam admitted killing the officer. Several inmates who were at the Ocean County

Jail at the same time Crockam was arrested also were called to testify that Crockam boasted to them that he had killed the police officer. The mother of one of Crockam's friends testified that Crockam told her a month before Matlosz was shot that he would kill a police officer rather than go to prison.

Tanya Cook Peteete testified that Crockam left court without making a scheduled appearance in December 2010, and that she urged him to return before authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. "He said he wasn't going back to the court," Cook Peteete testified. "He just said he's not going back to jail. If he's going to jail, it's going to be for killing a cop."

Crockam's lawyer, Mark Fury, elected not to present a defense.

Throughout the trial, he maintained that there was no reliable evidence or witnesses who could identify Crockam as the shooter. The murder weapon was never recovered; one of Crockam's acquaintances testified it was thrown into the Delaware River.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


 “What you just observed happen here at the Ocean County Court House is an event that is both extraordinary yet routinely ordinary. The verdict of a jury. An action repeated time and time again in court houses throughout NJ and the United States. Each day.

It represents in one sense the culmination of a system of justice that is unique in the world in which we live, established by the founders of the country in a constitution that is weighted at all steps in favor of the accused.

It is ironic that this defendant’s contact with Officer Matlosz was associated with his own contempt for court, the outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court, on other charges.

Yet he had the opportunity to be protected by a fully array of rights guaranteed to all defendants in criminal proceedings.

From the time of the initial investigation throughout the prosecution process, this defendant was treated with dignity. When emotions were running high after a brutal and senseless murder, he was arrested and not harmed.

He was housed in an appropriate facility; he had access to a law library; he was fed three times per day; he was not abused while in detention; he had the opportunity to talk to his family; to consult with competent legal counsel, guaranteed by our constitution; he had the right to remain silent; he was not obliged to offer a defense to the charges, the burden remaining at all times with the state to prove these charges beyond any reasonable doubt.

He had the right to have a trial, to confront through counsel witnesses, to test their credibility—to confront his accusers. The people of this state provided him with an attorney experienced in the law, competent in the court rooms, and who challenged the evidence presented by the State.

A jury of 12 disinterested and anonymous citizens were picked. They decided his fate. Not police officers, not legal scholars, not elected officials. Just 12 people from the community who were asked to sit, hear the evidence and for a minimal amount of compensation --which hardly paid for a babysitter, or compensated for time lost from work, or perhaps even bought a decent lunch—they were asked and they did make a fair, just and impartial decision on this case.

We believe the defendant was afforded a fair trial, and that the verdict represents a just verdict.

Throughout this process, law enforcement remained silent. The family, friends, colleagues and loved ones of Chris Matlosz remained silent, in deference to a system of justice in which we are all obliged to guarantee that the defendant received a fair, just and impartial trial on the merits of the case against him.

Now the 12 citizens have spoken. And in a few weeks the court will hear for the first time the voices left behind in this defendant’s violent wake.

Of Jane Calao, a mother who will not see her son marry, raise a family, succeed and fail at the challenges we all face in our lives;

Of Kelly Walsifer, a strong young woman whose future was erased in an instant through an act of incomprehensible violence.

Of Adam Matlosz, a brother who became an only child. Adam will not experience and share the joys and the sorrows of his life with his only brother.

Of police officers from Lakewood and throughout this state, who know that Chris was a surrogate for all of them, that he was killed for no other reason but that he wore a badge and a uniform.

And for every person touched by this event, who will be forever changed, more guarded, a little more bitter that while the system of justice has served us well, it will not be closure, it will not heal this wound, it will not change the memory of what happened, here in Lakewood NJ, 398 days ago.

The defendant will return to his home where his basic needs will be met, because we live in a civilized society. He will no doubt file appeals, make applications to the court, will visit with his family members. He will have the opportunity to consult with experienced and competent legal counsel, paid for by the public.

The prosecutors, the judge, the police officers and the public will soon file this event in their own banks of memory. We will move on with our lives.

But for those who were family or equivalent to family to Chris Matlosz, this process does little to bring closure to their pain. Tomorrow they will continue, like any other day, to confront their day feeling a terrible sense of loss. For all their tomorrows, they will wake first to that loss.