NJ judge releases Ivy League student charged with murdering her mom
ELIZABETH — A state judge who has been criticized for her apparent deference for criminal defendants this week rejected a prosecutor's request to detain a college student accused of stabbing her mother to death.
Prosecutors in Union County are appealing Superior Court Judge Lara DiFabrizio's decision on Wednesday to release 22-year-old Malika Jones to house arrest while she awaits trial on first-degree murder and weapons charges.
Under the state's new bail reform laws, most criminal defendants get released from jail before trial although defendants charged with serious violent offenses in many cases are kept behind bars.
DiFabrizio granted the prosecution's request of a stay of her decision, meaning Jones will remain locked up at Union County Jail pending the appeal.
DiFabrizio is the same judge who last year allowed an accused child rapist to be released from jail and go on vacation out of state.
And her decision in the Jones murder case came two days after a panel of appellate judges overturned another one of her decisions — this one involving a man accused of resisting arrest in Elizabeth, charges that DiFabrizio threw out during a detention hearing because she didn't believe the arresting officer told the truth in his affidavit.
DiFabrizio, who was appointed in 2017 by then-Gov. Chris Christie, has now had three of her detention decisions overturned on appeal.
According a report on NJ.com, which covered the detention hearing on Wednesday, DiFabrizio said that the bail reform law required her to look beyond the charges. She said she took into consideration nearly three dozen letters of support submitted on the defendant's behalf, the report said.
Prosecutors say Jones stabbed her mother, 57-year-old Inell Jones, in their Rahway home last month after the two argued about going back to school. Jones is enrolled at Barnard College. Prosecutors said Jones waited 20 minutes before calling 911, NJ.com reported.
Jones' attorney, Raymond Hamlin, said she acted in self-defense and argued that his client was exceptional because she was in "an Ivy League school," according to the NJ.com report. Hamlin did not return New Jersey 101.5's request for comment on Thursday.
The Union County Prosecutor's Office on Thursday declined to comment on DiFabrizio's decision in the murder case or on the appellate decision.
A two-judge panel on Monday sent the resisting-arrest case back to DiFabrizio, saying that the judge failed to give prosecutors a chance to make their arguments.
Elizabeth drug officers arrested Markell Pierre on Sept. 19. Police said Pierre and his brother approached officers who were trying to arrest someone else at Jefferson Park.
During his detention hearing, Pierre's attorney provided DiFabrizio with video that the Pierre brothers had taken of the encounter.
DiFabrizio, who watched the video behind closed doors with the defense attorney and assistant prosecutor, said the footage contradicted the affidavit of probable cause because it showed that the arrest was sparked by the brothers recording the officer.
"At no time prior to or during the grabbing and take down of defendant did Det. Gonzalez advise defendant that he was under arrest, as set forth in the affidavit," the judge reasoned, adding that the video also shows that the officer did not need to use a "compliance hold" to retrieve handcuffs because the cuffs were already in his hands.
The appellate judges noted that DiFabrizio prevented the assistant prosecutor from explaining the video or providing other evidence in response, cutting him off "each time he attempted to respond to what defendant had offered."
"Anything you say really wouldn't change this court's mind, based on what I saw on that, on that video," DiFabrizio told the prosecutor during the hearing.
The appellate panel overturned the dismissal of charges and ordered a new hearing to allow prosecutors to argue the merits of the video and probable cause.
In July, DiFabrizio allowed sanitation worker Daniel Williams to return to his Franklin Township home without house arrest or ankle monitoring after he was accused of repeatedly raping a 7-year-old girl years earlier.
In October, she released East Orange police Sgt. Edward Giles, who is accused of raping and molesting some of the 50 children he knew as a foster parent and youth coach, to house arrest with ankle monitoring.
Prosecutors opposed both decisions but did not appeal either.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.