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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    Officers convinced a man wanted in a homicide in New York State into surrendering Wednesday night after he threatened to jump off the top of a parking garage.

    Police officers convinced a man wanted in a homicide in New York State into surrendering Wednesday night after he threatened to jump off the top of the Spring Street parking garage in Princeton.

    Princeton police located the man - whose name was not immediately available - shortly before 5 p.m. after receiving an alert that his car might be in town, Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter said.

    Officers approached him in the garage and he fled on foot and climbed to the top of the five-story garage, where he threatened to jump, Sutter said.

    Princeton detectives and New Jersey State Police troopers talked to the man, eventually getting him to come off the ledge shortly before 7 p.m.

    Sutter did not have any further details on the New York charges Wednesday night. The New York State Police did not return a request for comment.

    Sutter described the man as middle aged, and a New Jersey resident, who had been driving a silver Toyota Prius.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.

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    When a player is approaching a milestone, everybody from the players to the crowd await in anticipation. That is, if it's not a secret. Heading into the season, Peddie head coach Sarah Crider knew ...

    When a player is approaching a milestone, everybody from the players to the crowd await in anticipation. That is, if it's not a secret.

    Heading into the season, Peddie head coach Sarah Crider knew senior Natalie Stralkus would eclipse the 1,000 career points accolade, but didn't want Natalie or her teammates to get too caught up with it.

    To just Crider's knowledge, Stralkus entered Wednesday's home matchup against Hun needing 21 points to join the 1,000 points club. After a 17-point first-half for Stralkus, Crider knew it was coming.

    "I spoke to the referees at halftime and told them about the milestone approaching," said Crider. "As it went on, I kept signaling to the referees how many more points she needed."

    Stralkus recorded her 1,000th point on a fast-break layup in the beginning of the third quarter, and finished with a game-high 24 points, leading Peddie to a 63-31 victory over Hun.

    "I knew I was close, but not that close", said Stralkus. "I couldn't have done this without my teammates, coaches, and my parents training me while growing up."

    Stralkus becomes the first female 1,000 points scorer at Peddie since Haley Peters, who did it back in 2010. Peters went on to play at Duke University.

    Stralkus has committed to play for Division 1 West Point next year. Stralkus' mother, Jan Przystup, played high school basketball for East Brunswick, and went on to also play Division 1 ball at Loyola University Maryland. Natalie though, will hold bragging rights over her mother. Jan fell 13 points short of the 1,000 points milestone.

    Janayshia Brown added 15 points for Peddie. Kylie Favours had nine points.

    Jada Jones led Hun in points with 15.

    (Photo courtesy of Natalie Stralkus)

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    In a letter to parents, the director at the International Academy of Trenton said the Department of Education's decision to not renew the school's charter was 'disheartening.'

    A Trenton charter school could close in June, one year after it moved into a building renovated at a cost of $17 million, because the state Department of Education decided not to renew the school's charter.

    In a Jan. 12 letter to parents obtained by NJ Advance Media, the Director of the International Academy of Trenton (IAT), Dominique Taylor, said the International Academy of Trenton "will have no choice but to close" unless the school can get the state to reconsider its decision.

    The last day of school for students for the 2017-2018 school year is June 19.

    Kimberley Harrington, then commissioner of the Department of Education, in a Jan. 12 letter to IAT said the state was not renewing the charter because the academy "failed to provide a strong educational program and sustained organizational stability."

    Representatives of the academy did not respond to requests for comment.

    Old newspaper building gets new life as charter school

    The school, Harrington wrote, has been "among the lowest performing schools in the state on PARCC assessment" since it began in 2014. 

    She noted that during an unannounced visit to the school in December, state officials found "frequent disturbances" in classrooms, including roughhousing and students speaking "inappropriately" to each other and teachers.

    During a previous visit in October, students were seen talking on cell phones while in class, and leaving the classroom.

    Parents say the school is plagued by staff turnover, with inexperienced teachers unable to control students in the classroom.

    The academy has had three executive directors and two interim executive directors since 2014. 

    "I was shocked. I said to myself, 'Trenton doesn't need another problem,'" said parent Jas Fayton, 30, a city resident who has two children enrolled at the school. "There was nothing that led me to believe that something like this was going to happen."

    Fayton says she remains satisfied with the school's quality of education, saying her son's reading skills have improved this year.

    There were 529 students enrolled at the academy in the 2016-17 school year, according to state Department of Education data. It had a teacher-to-student ratio of 16:1 during that school year.

    school performance report shows many students are chronically absent, while proficiency in math and English fall below benchmarks.

    State data also showed 14.4-percent of the academy's students were absent for more than 10-percent of the school year in 2016-17, almost double what would be needed for the school to be considered "excelling" in that category.

    Sharita Wilson, 42, whose son has been enrolled in the academy for three years, said she felt a charter school was the best option for her child because of overcrowding in the public schools.

    Wilson said, however, that a number of the school's teachers have quit in the middle of the school year, leaving students with substitutes and inexperienced teachers that were not able to control students.

    State data shows the average years of experience for a teacher at the academy is 2.8, while the average across New Jersey is 11.8 years.

    Trenton resident Gilberto DeJesus, Jr., whose daughter has been enrolled at the academy for nearly three years, said the school has been on a decline for a number of reasons, including student behavior and school lack of communication.  

    "How is my daughter supposed to learn if the teachers are constantly being interrupted by kids in the classroom?" said DeJesus, 43. "It's a good school. They just need to screen out some of the bad apples."

    All three parents said they want to see the academy remain open for the 2018-19 school year, if the current issues are fixed.

    Taylor, in her letter to parents, said the Department of Education's decision was "disheartening" and that the academy's board of trustees would explore options to have the state reconsider its decision. 

    During the 2016-17 school year, the Department of Education reported, the median student growth in English and math was half of what it needed to be for the academy to be considered as moving from "needing improvement" to "showing progress."

    The academy, part of the SABIS network of schools, opened in September 2014, and moved several times before getting private funding to retrofit of the former Times newspaper building.

    HighMark School Development, a Utah-based company that specializes in buying and redeveloping locations for charter schools, bought the 80,000-square-foot building for $1.3 million in 2015. The academy was leasing the building.

    Last spring, the school completed its move to the former Trenton Times building, which landed it an Excellence in Restoration award by Trenton's Landmarks Commission.

    Taylor Tiamoyo Harris may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ladytiamoyo.

    Find on Facebook.

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    New Jersey has a wealth of places to board an aircraft and see the Garden State from above.

    This week, I'm "looking down" on New Jersey.

    And, I give you my word, the only time I'll say I'm looking down on this great state is when I'm posting a vintage photo gallery featuring aerial images of N.J.


    Views of the Garden State from above date back further than we may think. The first manned balloon flight in America took place on Jan. 10, 1793, starting in Philadelphia and crossing the Delaware before landing in what is now Deptford Township. French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard brought along a dog on the 15-mile, 46-minute trip as well as a letter signed by George Washington identifying him to whoever he encountered on landing.

    The Lakehurst Naval Air Station became known to people across the country following the explosion of the Hindenburg in 1937, but the U.S. Navy had been using it as a Naval Air Station since 1921, flying blimps and dirigibles as well as fixed-wing aircraft.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Predating Lakehurst was the Cape May Naval Air Station. Built in 1917, the base, now known as Naval Air Station Wildwood, was home to both airplanes and blimps. In 1920, a blimp originating from the station flew the length of New Jersey's coastline photographing every city and town along the way.

    And you might be surprised how many places there are in New Jersey to board an aircraft and see the Garden State from above. According to the New Jersey State Department of Transportation, "NJDOT, through its Bureau of Aeronautics, has general oversight of 43 public use airports and almost 400 restricted use facilities, including airstrips, heliports and balloonports."

    Here's a gallery of New Jersey from above. And, here are links to similar galleries from the past.

    Vintage aerial photos of N.J.

    Vintage photos of N.J. from above

    Vintage photos of aviation in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Crimes and incidents reported to the Hamilton police department, Mercer County


    Jan. 17 - Theft/Auto - 600 block E. Howell St.
    Jan. 17 - Theft - Lamont Ave.
    Jan. 17 - Theft - 2500 block Whitehorse/Merc. Rd.
    Jan. 17 - Theft - 2400 block S. Broad St.
    Jan. 17 - Theft - 600 block Kuser Rd.
    Jan. 17 - Assault - Victor Ave.
    Jan. 17 - Burg/Auto - 200 block Redfern St.
    Jan. 17 - Shoplifter - 700 block Rt. 130 Hwy.

    Jan. 18 - 1000 block Klockner Rd.
    Jan. 18 - Theft - 100 block Elmore Ave.
    Jan. 18 - Theft - 300 block Marketplace Blvd.
    Jan. 18 - Shoplifter - 1900 block Greenwood Ave.

    Jan. 19 - Graffiti - 300 block Scully Ave.
    Jan. 19 - Theft/Auto - 300 block Wilfred Ave.
    Jan. 19 - Theft - Hamilton Health Pl.
    Jan. 19 - Theft - 1300 block Liberty St.
    Jan. 19 - Shoplifter - 900 block Rt. 33 Hwy.
    Jan. 19 - Shoplifter - 1000 block Whitehorse/Mercerville. Rd.

    Jan. 20 - Theft/Auto - 300 block Sewell Ave.
    Jan. 20 - Theft - 300 block Rt. 33 Hwy.
    Jan. 20 - Theft - 1700 block Nottingham Way
    Jan. 20 - Theft - 700 block Rt. 130 Hwy.
    Jan. 20 - Theft - Maitland Rd.
    Jan. 20 - Burglary - Whitehorse Ave.
    Jan. 20 - Burglary - 100 block Hillwood Ave.
    Jan. 20 - Burglary - 1600 block E. State St.
    Jan. 20 - Robbery - 1100 block S. Olden Ave.
    Jan. 20 - Shoplifter - 2400 block S. Broad St.

    Jan. 21 - Crim. Mischief - 1000 block Washington Blvd.
    Jan. 21 - Crim. Mischief - 800 block Johnston Ave.
    Jan. 21 - Burg/Auto - 100 block Rt. 206 Hwy.
    Jan. 21 - Burglary - 1700 block Greenwood Ave.
    Jan. 21 - Robbery - Barricklo St.

    Jan. 22 - Burglary - 2400 block Hamilton Ave.
    Jan. 22 - Shoplifter - 1700 block Nottingham Way


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    The K-9, Rigo, joined the Robbinsville police force last year

    Rigo, the new Robbinsville police K-9 dog, will soon don a bulletproof vest paid for by t-shirt sales that honored a late Trenton police K-9 officer,

    The Eddie Leopardi Tee Shirt Fund was a joint effort by Ron Hubscher Jr., of Rons Fire House Tees, and Leopardi family members, Hubscher said.

    Leopardi was a 22-year Trenton police officer and longtime K-9 officer who took his own life in late 2016.

    They recently donated $1,000 to Rigo's handler, Robbinsville Patrolman Edward Vincent, to fund the dog's vest.

    Rigo, a black Labrador retriever, joined the Robbinsvillle police force in October and is trained to sniff out explosives and track humans and is assigned to the township's schools, where Vincent works as the resource officer.

    Robbinsville police add another K-9, will patrol schools

    Leopardi's mother, Frances Leopardi, and his sister, Belinda Walter, presented the check to Vincent this week, with Hubscher.

    Hubscher, who retired from Trenton Fire Department three years ago, has been in the t-shirt business for years, and often makes t-shirts for charitable causes.

    In 2016, he donated $1,524 to a Bucks County, Pa. surgeon who treated his wife for breast cancer - proceeds from pink-tinged Trenton Fire Dept. t-shirts he sold, mainly to firefighters and their family members.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    He should have returned the badge when he left the IRS, prosecutors said, but instead told his supervisor it had been stolen

    Federal authorities on Wednesday announced felony charges against a former IRS attorney they said continued to flash his ID badge after he left government employment.

    Deon Owensby was supposed to have returned the ID badge, known as a "pocket commission," when he left the IRS in April 2015. Instead, prosecutors said, he told his former supervisor it had been stolen, and went on to use the badge to attempt to get out of traffic tickets.

    Owensby, 42, of Trenton, made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Newark Wednesday on a complaint charging him with impersonating a federal officer and possessing a federal identification card with out authorization, according to a statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

    Prosecutors have alleged Owensby displayed federal identification to local and state police officers on at least three occasions between August 2015 and April 2017. During an April 2017 traffic stop in Millburn, authorities said, the officer pointed out that the expiration date on Owensby's ID card had passed.

    He lied, the U.S. Attorney's Office said, and told the officer the card was still valid.

    Authorities did not say whether Owensby was cited for any violations as a result of any of the three traffic stops in questions.

    He was released on $20,000 unsecured bond after his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark.

    Reached by email Wednesday night, Owensby's attorney declined to comment.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty. Find on Facebook.

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    He was a Mercer County freeholder, and served as chief of staff to former Trenton Mayor Tony Mack

    Paul Sigmund, the son of a well-known Princeton family and grandson of two members of Congress, and who worked in public life at times, died in California earlier this month.

    He was 53 and living in Riverside, Calif.

    The one-time Mercer County freeholder battled addiction in his later years, and at times it made headlines.

    Once, in 2011, he was arrested a few blocks away from Trenton's City Hall buying heroin, while working as chief of staff to former Mayor Tony Mack, and fought with the arresting officers.

    In his obituary, Sigmund was remembered for his zest for life, enriching the lives of people close to him and his varied pursuits. He was a surfer, comic book collector, and had lived in Spain and Chile.

    "Throughout most of his life Paul was a vibrant, joyful person who lived, loved and connected to others fully. As one cousin put it this week, Paul had a 'fierce confidence in life,' " the obituary said.

    Sigmund graduated from Stanford University and Michigan Law School, and worked as a banker, lawyer and technology industry executive, his obituary said.

    "Everyone who came in contact with Paul came out better for it. His generosity knew no bounds...And he loved his family and friends with an energy that could be overpowering," it said.

    Sigmund was elected as a Mercer County freeholder in 1996 but resigned before completing his term to take a job in California.

    He returned to New Jersey to become Mack's chief of staff in March 2011 and a month later, was charged with speeding and driving without a valid license driving a city-issued SUV in the city.

    Three days following the heroin arrest near City Hall, he resigned and was admitted into a drug treatment program.

    He rear-ended a car in Lawrence in 2011, and was involved in a hit-and-run crash in Princeton in late 2014, in which he was also charged with heroin possession. He was living in the San Francisco at the time.

    "The latter part of Paul's life brought an illness that has and is taking the lives of so many and touching every family, proving again that addiction knows no barriers of race, income, ability, or deservedness. It takes indiscriminately, and it took down this man who had so much to live for and so much to give," his obituary said.

    Sigmund is survived by two daughters, two brothers and his former spouse. He was predeceased by his parents, Paul Sigmund III, an emeritus Princeton University professor when he died in 2014, and Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the former mayor of Princeton, who passed away in 1990.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.

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    See which team moved into No. 1 in girls basketball after a busy week filled with upsets.

    _55I0945 (5).JPGBrielle Bisogno (14) of Toms River North secures a rebound in the fourth quarter of the 34th Annual WOBM Christmas Classic girls basketball final in Toms River on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. Manchester won, 61-48. 

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    Who is the top junior guard in N.J.?

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    Who has N.J.'s best high school hockey jerseys?

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    "This was a difficult case for any jury," said Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Tim Ward outside the courtroom after the verdict had been read.

    A jury on Thursday convicted a Trenton teen of murder for luring another teen into an alley and shooting him to death in 2016.

    Mada Eoff, was 17-years-old at the time he carried out the Sept. 18 2016 killing of Lance Beckett, 19.

    The 12-person jury found Eoff guilty of murder, and not guilty on two related weapons offenses. 

    "This was a difficult case for any jury," said Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Tim Ward outside the courtroom after the verdict had been read.   

    The verdicts came after a three-week trial of Eoff, and three days of jury deliberation.

    Public defenders Jessica Lyons and Amber Forester had no comment as they left the courtroom, but filed an application for the judge to turn the murder charge into a not guilty verdict.

    Lyons argued that the verdicts were inconsistent and questioned how her client could be found guilty of murder but found not guilty of possessing a weapon at the time.

    Ward said it is unfair to the jury to speculate on why they came back with a mixed verdict after they spent a lot of time working on the case.

    2 Trenton teens charged in shooting death of 19-year-old

    Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier is expected to issue a decision on Lyons application for a not guilty murder verdict by Feb. 16 Ward said he is confident that the guilty verdict will stick.

    "I'm glad for Lance's family, I hope (the verdict) brings them some measure of relief," Ward said. 

    A group of Beckett's family members were visibly relieved as they left the courtroom, wiping away a few tears and hugging each other.

    He also commended the work of the police and prosecutor's investigators who worked the case. They solved the case without forensic evidence or the murder weapon, he said.

    One of Eoff's co-defendant's Quashawn Emanuel, 18, testified against him, telling the jury Eoff was the one who shot Beckett, which Ward said was instrumental to the case.

    Emanuel has previously plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter with a recommended sentence of eight years in state prison.

    The case against the third co-defendant, Omar Kennedy, 34, who has admitted he was there when Beckett was killed - but maintains his innocence in the actual killing - is still pending trial.

    Authorities say Kennedy stomped on Beckett's head after he was shot.

    Eoff is tenatively scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, and he could face anywhere from 30 years to life in prison.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    The team will wear special uniforms featuring the made-in-New Jersey breakfast meat

    Popcorn, peanuts - and pork roll.

    To commemorate their 25th season in Trenton this summer, the Trenton Thunder - a minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees - will become the Trenton Pork Roll.

    And the players will wear special, pork roll uniforms.

    On Friday nights anyway.

    "Pork Roll is a New Jersey staple that can be served on everything from breakfast sandwiches to burgers and we're thrilled to celebrate it on a daily basis at ARM & HAMMER Park," Thunder General Manager Jeff Hurley in an announcement.

    "Re-branding ourselves as the Thunder Pork Roll on Friday nights is the perfect way to celebrate a Garden State favorite!" he said.

    New Jerseyan takes his 1st pork roll sandwich eating title

    The pork roll Fridays kicks off May 18 with a giveaway and "Pork Roll Celebration," the club said.

    The first 1,025 fans, ages 21 and older will get a pork roll apron, and the club will sell $1 pork roll sandwiches, courtesy of Case's Pork Roll, of Trenton.

    The club's stadium, ARM & HAMMER Park in Riverview Plaza, is the site of the Trenton Thunder World Famous Case's Pork Roll Eating Contest, which held its third competition this past September.

     The Thunder's 2018 season begins Thursday, April 5 when they host the Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants). Tickets, ticket plans and group sales are available at and by phone at 609-394-3300.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook


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    Todd White once confessed to bank robbery in the lobby of the Times of Trenton

    Todd R. White, a Trenton man who's been in and out of prison for robbing banks for the past 20 years, is the robber who held up a PNC branch in Bucks County, Pa. last summer, authorities alleged this week.

    Falls, Pa. police linked White, 52, of Trenton, to the June 6, 2017 robbery through his wallet, DNA and a GPS device, reported.

    Todd-White copy.jpgTodd R. White, police photo 

    During the holdup, the robber, who wore a mask, reportedly told the teller not to put a GPS tracker in with the cash, but one was inserted. Police tracked it to an apartment building on Edgewood Avenue in Trenton, Falls police said, reported by

    There, police found black velour track pants with White's wallet and identification. And a Falls detective found a handmade ski mask believed to be used by the bank robber, the site reported.

    Investigators eventually got a DNA sample from White, and in October, it came back a match to samples found on the pants and mask, and Falls police issued a warrant for his arrest on several crimes related to the holdup, the site reported.

    A U.S Marshals task force based in Trenton apprehended White last week. He's in the Bucks County jail awaiting trial.

    White was released from a state prison in New Jersey on March 22, 2015, when he maxed out on a five-to-10-year term for the December 2007 holdup of what was then Roma Bank on Hamilton Avenue, records show.

    A retired city detective working an armed security gig in the bank foiled White's plans that day in 2007, and he was arrested moments later a few blocks away. 

    Detectives then learned that White had just been freed from prison - less than a week earlier - for robbing the same branch in 2003.

    In the late 1990s, White appeared twice at the Times of Trenton building - once to confess.

    In May 1996, White walked into the paper's former building on Perry Street and admitted to a reporter he robbed banks in in Lawrence and Trenton. The cops were hot on his trail, and he wanted to tell his story.

    In the interview, White said he robbed banks to pay for Christmas gifts, to impress street thugs with name-brand clothing and his desire to resemble a high roller when he gambled in Atlantic City. He also discussed his battles with addiction.

    He was sentenced to federal prison and served 20 months. 

    In 1998, White reappeared at The Times building seeking a job. White said he'd changed his ways, was involved with his son's life, had completed a drug-education program in prison.

    And talking about his bank robbing, he said he "never used a gun" but had led tellers to believe he had one.

    In his 2003 and 2007 hold-ups, no weapons were seen, police and past news stories say.

    No weapon was mentioned by Falls police when they publicized the robbery last summer.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    "We're not preaching. We're not shouting... We are humbly and solemnly praying with the senator," one clergy member said Watch video

    Clergy members from across the state gathered Thursday in Newark to protest claims by government prosecutors that prayer circles U.S. Senator Robert Menendez participated in with dressed clergy during breaks in his trial might have influenced the jury.

    "This is why this country was established, for the freedom to pray and practice as each one of us wills," Rabbi Avi Richler, of Chabad of Gloucester County in Mullica Hill, said over street noise at the intersection of Broad and Walnut streets.

    "When they suppress prayer in other countries, we stand up and we say, 'no.' And here in America when they suppress prayers we should have a crowd that fills this entire square," he said. 

    About a dozen priests, reverends and rabbis from across the state stood between Grace Church and the Rodino Federal building saying they and Menendez had every right to exercise religion in the hallways of the courthouse. 

    "How in the world can a jury who is closed up, locked up in a room debating and deliberating over the case hear us in the hallway quietly praying," said Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Owens, of the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen, who led the rally.

    "We're not preaching. We're not shouting. We're not raising any noise," he said. "We are humbly and solemnly praying with the senator."

    Why is the government retrying Menendez and how will it be different?

    The corruption case against Menendez (D-NJ) ended in November with a mistrial because the jury was deadlocked.

    The government alleges that Menendez's ophthalmologist friend Salomon Melgen gave him six-figure campaign contributions, luxury hotel stays and flights on private planes. In exchange, the government asserts, for Menedez's help with an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute Melgen was involved in, visa applications for the doctor's foreign girlfriends and a contested port security contract in the Dominican Republic.  

    The defense argued that Melgen and Menendez shared a 20-year friendship and the senator's staff mistakenly believed those gifts were exempt from disclosure. They also said the contributions followed years of financial support from Melgen for candidates outside of his home state, Florida. 

    The government submitted a short filing to the court last Friday afternoon asking to retry Menendez, who is up for re-election this year, and Melgen as soon as possible.

    Hours later prosecutors asked for new ground rules for the second trial. Among them, protecting the jury from 'undue extrajudicial pressure' that stemmed from, among other things, the prayers. 

    Prosecutor's specifically complained that jurors would see the senator standing in a circle with dressed clergy in the hallways praying and singing hymns and was sometimes heard singing 'Amazing Grace.'

    Rev. Pablo Pizarro, of Lighthouse Assembly of God and a liaison for clergy affairs to the office of Newark Mayor Das Baraka, said he attended the trial on three days. One of the times he was there, Menendez came out of the courtroom for a bathroom break and he spoke to the senator, who he knows from parades and other events.

    Pizarro said he asked Menendez how he was doing and offered to pray with him right there. 'It was a simple prayer, praying that God would give him strength and that he would be encouraged through this process that he's not alone," Pizarro said.

    Other clergy, about a half dozen people in total, stood around Menendez and prayed in a "whisper voice" with their hands placed over his shoulder, Pizarro recalled. 

    Many of the clergy who gathered at the rally said they believe Menendez is innocent.

    'There is no there there,' judge says in tossing some Menendez charges

    "I think that they are pulling for straws," said Owens. "When you don't have facts and you don't have anything to substantiate the charges, you're going to pull straws."

    Owens, speaking as a citizen, said he is "very suspect" of the current government.

    "They're in the news everyday and not in a positive way," he said. "And now we have a (Department of Justice) that wants to crucify one of the outspoken senators in our senate today."

    Several clergy said they were returning support to Menendez that he has shown them.

    Father Michael Sorial, of St. Anianus Coptic Orthodox Church in Princeton, said his family emigrated from Egypt to America because of the religious freedom this country affords.

    "Over the last 12 years Senator Menendez has been a credit to the Coptic community in our good times and in tragic times ... for that reason we stood with him during his trial .. not only did we pray for him ... we pray that he will be protected from undue attacks and that justice would truly be served," Sorial said.

    In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and signed by 19 New Jersey clergy members, the religious leaders said their support of Menendez is "rooted in Senator Menendez's lifetime of work defending society's most vulnerable."

    The religious leaders said they plan to attend the second trial -- and to pray with Menendez.

    "We're going to send letters to every level of the department of justice so that they understand this is not just a one time thing," Owens said. 

    A department of justice spokesperson declined to comment.

    A spokesman for Menendez, Steven Sandburg, said the senator "is appreciative of all the continued support he's getting."

    Allison Pries may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AllisonPries. Find on Facebook.  


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    In this week's edition of wrestling hot takes, looks at the sport aiding charitable causes, forfeiting to win a match and county/conference tournament schedules.

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    Police do not suspect any foul play involved in the death

    A 27-year-old Hamilton man was found dead Monday on a tanning bed at a Mercer County gym, authorities said.

    Police were called to Crunch Fitness on South Broad Street, in Hamilton, after employees at the gym discovered Nicholas Ricigliani dead in a tanning bed, officials said in a statement.

    Investigators do not suspect any foul play at this time. Ricigliani was taken to the Middlesex County Medical Examiner's Office to determine the cause of death.

    Services for Ricigliani are scheduled for Tuesday, according to his obituary.

    Anyone with any information may contact Detective Frank Burger, of the Hamilton Police Division Criminal Investigations Section, at 609-581-4010 or the Hamilton Police Crime Tip Hotline at 609-581-4008.

    Spencer Kent may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find the Find on Facebook.

    Have information about this story or something else we should be covering? Tell us.


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    Two simple men in rural County Kerry, Ireland, try to make a buck by working as extras on a big-budget American movie shooting in their village.

    Irish drama is often derided as maudlin, but in truth the best of Ireland's playwrights excel at balancing the somber and the joyful.

    This skillful nuance is on full display in the McCarter's excellent production of "Stones in His Pockets" by Belfast playwright Marie Jones. A surprise hit on Broadway in 2001, the play focusses on two simple men in rural County Kerry, Ireland, trying to make a buck by working as extras on a big-budget American movie shooting in their village. In the space of this simple story, Jones finds room for rich layers of humanity, tragedy, humor and warmth.

    Down on his luck, Charlie (Garrett Lombard) has wandered from the northern tip of Ireland all the way to the island's southern shores where he finds himself a good gig making 40 easy quid a day as the sort of background local color Hollywood producers cherish in Irish films.

    On set, he strikes up a friendship with Jake (Aaron Monaghan), one of the many Kerry locals who regularly capitalize on the movie industry's love for Irish scenery. (Another local, elderly Mickey, brags of being the last surviving extra from the 1952 John Wayne classic, "The Quiet Man"). Over the course of several filming days, the men share some drinks and some jokes, but also find each other facing many of the same anxieties. When tragedy strikes in the little Kerry village, the locals struggle to coalesce around a shared identity amidst the growing pressure of American purse strings.

    Jones accents the play's story with a unique trick of theatricality: The actors playing Charlie and Jake play all 11 other characters as well. It is only a few minutes into the men's initial meeting before Lombard spins on his heel and abruptly becomes the film's assistant director Simon, a move quickly followed by Monaghan's transformation into Aisling, Simon's assistant.

    A distinct voice and set of mannerisms signal each actor moving into a different character, demands that Lombard and Monaghan satisfy expertly and with enthusiasm. No characters are as rich as Charlie and Jake, but neither do any bleed together. Together with director Lindsay Posner, Lombard and Monaghan bring full life to an entire farming village, as well as the highfalutin foreign interlopers.

    The play is at its best once the friendship between Charlie and Jake grows and the men start to share their struggles.

    Charlie has fled far from home with big dreams but neither map nor agenda, and although he has little interest in allowing life to bring him down, Lombard skillfully shows the cracks in that constructed happy-go-lucky facade. Jake wears the worries of his past and the conditions of his village more openly, as Monaghan paints a fretful character evolving into himself.

    Jake is not certain why he believes what he does, but he trusts the uneasy feeling in his gut (with Mickey and Sean, Monaghan actually gets the opportunity to shine as the play's best minor characters).

    At once playful and poignant, "Stones in His Pockets" plays out over Beowulf Boritt's simple and whimsical set -- an unremarkable and indistinct patch of turf littered with cases for movie equipment, imposed by outsiders -- that captures the heart of Jones' fine play.

    Jake and Charlie could be any two of the dozens of extras on this film set, all of whom would certainly have compelling stories to tell. In highlighting Charlie and Jake, Jones tells a much broader narrative of finding joy amidst arrested, or at least fledgling, desire. Ultimately, "Stones in His Pockets" is interested in the drama and the joy of these two everyday lives full of consequence.


    McCarter Theatre

    91 University Place, Princeton

    Tickets: available online ( or by phone, 609-258-2787. Running through February 11.

    Patrick Maley may be reached at Find him on Twitter and Instagram @PatrickJMaley. Find on Facebook.

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    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora filed paperwork Thursday to run for the office

    Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson will not run for re-election in May and will announce that news at a press event this afternoon, a source told NJ Advance Media.

    The source confirmed Jackson's planned announcement on the condition of anonymity.

    Jackson was a career public servant before being elected in 2014, beating Paul Perez in a municipal election runoff.

    Perez has declared his candidacy in the May election, as have several other candidates.

    Among them are Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, who filed paperwork Thursday with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) to run for mayor.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.

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    Which divisions in the state are loaded with the best teams.

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