🔴 A convicted killer has won his appeal claiming a judge's sentence was too harsh

🔴 The judge said she imposed a longer sentence "despite the finding of the jury"

🔴 Damien Edwards will be resentenced in April

TOTOWA — A man who stabbed a former Paterson Catholic football star to death at a QuickChek following a bout of road rage could see fewer years in prison because a judge ignored a jury.

Damien Edwards, now 38, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the May 20, 2018 killing of 35-year-old Justin Parker. Edwards had chased the victim into the convenience store and stabbed him with a 6-inch blade after an argument with Parker's friend about erratic driving.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison. State records show Edwards is set for release on Jan. 8, 2027, and will be eligible for parole on Mar. 6, 2025.

But after winning an appeal earlier this month, Edwards has a new court date. He will be resentenced on Apr. 27, 2023, and could see less time behind bars.

Damien Edwards, before (left) and after his conviction. (PCPO/DOC)
Damien Edwards, before (left) and after his conviction. (PCPO/DOC)

The difference between murder and manslaughter

In its ruling, the appeals court said that the judge who imposed the eight-year sentence ignored the jury's will.

As Edwards pointed out in his appeal, Superior Court Judge Marybel Mercado-Ramirez in court repeatedly referred to the killing as a "senseless murder." But the jury did not convict him of murder. Instead, it found him guilty of manslaughter.

Court records show that Edwards testified at trial that he was concerned for the safety of his girlfriend and eight-year-old daughter, who were both in his car at QuickChek. The documents also said Parker and his friend were approaching Edwards's car until he pulled out the knife, at which point they ran into the store.

While still homicide, manslaughter is a crime of passion that applies when a defendant is provoked in the heat of the moment.

The Totowa QuickChek (Google Maps)
The Totowa QuickChek (Google Maps)

Judge ignores jury to impose harsher sentence

However, the judge sentenced Edwards as if the killing wasn't a crime of passion or provoked. In her own words, she sentenced him "despite the finding of the jury."

"I'm not sure why they came to the conclusion that they came to," the judge said of the jury. "It does not appear that there was sufficient provocation to kill somebody. The provocation here appears to be slight at best."

The appellate panel said that this denied Edwards a fair trial.

"The jury cannot find that there was adequate provocation to downgrade the offense to manslaughter, only for the sentencing judge to openly call the crime a murder and apply an aggravating factor on the basis that provocation was, in her view, insufficient," the court wrote.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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