Jurors in New Jersey schoolyard murder trial see machete allegedly used in attacks

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Forensic evidence dominated the third day of testimony Tuesday in the trial of a man charged in the brutal murders of three friends in a schoolyard in 2007, including a rusty machete allegedly used to slash two of the victims before they were shot.

Jurors whose most recent day in the courtroom was dominated by graphic testimony from a survivor of the attacks listened on Tuesday to a retired detective who oversaw the crime scene investigation.

Though much of Michael Bozsolak's testimony focused on descriptions of forensic techniques, it still packed an emotional punch for friends and family members in the gallery, particularly when Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo opened a cardboard box and displayed the 18-inch-long machete and later showed crime-scene photos to the jury.

The survivor told jurors last week how one of the assailants tried to "cut her neck off" with the machete after sexually assaulting her, and prosecutors say one of the other victims suffered severe slash wounds.

Nicaraguan national Rodolfo Godinez of Newark is the first of six defendants to go on trial for the killings. All face murder, attempted murder, robbery and weapons charges for the grisly August 2007 killings of Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower, both 20, and 18-year-old Terrance Aeriel.

The survivor is not being named by The Associated Press because of sexual assault charges against two defendants.

All four victims were friends from Newark and students at Delaware State University or about to enroll. The slayings made national headlines and led to anti-crime measures that have been credited with significantly lowering Newark's murder rate, though the city still is plagued by gun violence.

On the stand for the entire day Tuesday, Bozsolak described collecting evidence at the scene that included several beer bottles left near bleachers within feet of where the survivor was found and up a set of concrete stairs from where the three victims lay.

Fingerprints on the bottles matched those of Jose Carranza and Melvin Jovel, the first and last suspects arrested in the weeks after the killings.

No physical evidence has been introduced that places the then-24-year-old Godinez at the scene, and the survivor was unable to identify him, although she identified Carranza and Jovel in the days after the attacks.

Prosecutors are expected to introduce DNA evidence that links Godinez to one of the beer bottles as well as statements Godinez made to authorities after his arrest in Maryland in which he admitted being at the schoolyard that night.

The most emotional moment Tuesday came when Sukhdeo held up crime scene photos for Bozsolak to identify before showing them to the jury. Some family members closed their eyes, barely holding back tears, while others stared ahead grimly as jurors reviewed photos of the three victims lying in pools of blood.