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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    Amber Dudley was 27 and lived in Collingswood, Camden County, when she died in a Trenton robbery gone awry


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    The weather forecast isn't good, but the games are.


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    Which girls lacrosse teams are without a loss so far this season?


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    The Communications Workers of America announced it has a tentative deal with the administration.

    The largest state employee union that for years feuded with former Gov. Chris Christie is on the verge of forging a contract with Gov. Phil Murphy that includes salary increases and back pay, the union announced Monday.

    The New Jersey section of the Communications Workers of America, whose 32,000 members have been working without a contract for three years, has a "tentative agreement" with the new administration reaching back to July 2015 and expiring in June 2019.

    The new contract will provide all covered workers with two 2-percent pay increases and, importantly, compensate them for the longevity pay bumps Christie's administration had frozen since 2015, according to the announcement on the group's website.

    CWA leaders said they will provide members with additional details on the contract later this week and set a date for members the ratify the deal.

    Murphy could revive power of public labor unions

    The union made no concessions in the tentative agreement, the negotiating team said in its message to workers.

    "We achieved our goals," they said. "The contract improves on the pattern set by other settlements and sets a foundation for our next contract. We bargained to receive all of our increments retroactively and raises for workers at max."

    Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, and a spokesman for Murphy, a Democrat, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    The previous contract expired in June 2015. And union leaders said at the time they were holding off on entering formal negotiations with the state pending a state Supreme Court ruling on funding for government worker pensions they said would set the tone for those talks.

    After the contracts expired, Christie, a Republican, suspended these employees' pay bumps, called step increases, they typically receive when they reach certain longevity milestones, and the CWA and other state labor groups filed suit.

    In the past when previous contracts expired without a new one in place, workers continued to receive their step increases. Christie's administration broke from this longstanding tradition, setting off a years-long fight that concludes with this contract.

    A similar dispute between local public safety unions and Atlantic County and Bridgewater Township went in the workers' favor, with the state Supreme Court largely upholding the practice.

    Still, the Christie administration refused to pay employees' step increases, and asked the state agency in charge of public labor relations to block the CWA's request to go to arbitration to argue that the state should unfreeze their pay.

    Then, Murphy's decidedly more labor-friendly administration took office and negotiations appeared to begin in earnest. 

    Samantha Marcus may be reached at smarcus@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthamarcus. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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    Trying to take in some action this week? We recommend one of the 18 games, tournaments and showcases.


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    "I'm ready tomorrow," Forchion told the judge at Monday's pretrial hearing

    Edward "NJ Weedman" Forchion will get another chance to represent himself in court next month after a jury couldn't come to a conclusion on a witness tampering charge last year. 

    Judge Anthony Massi said Monday that jury selection for the retrial will begin May 8, and opening statements could be heard as early as May 10. 

    "I'm ready tomorrow," Forchion told the judge at Monday's pretrial hearing.

    A jury found Forchion not guilty in November for the first -- and more serious -- of two counts of witness tampering that stemmed from a drug raid on his eatery, NJ Weedman's Joint in 2016. The jury was hung on a second count.

    'He's showing bias,' Weedman says clerk blocked his campaign

    Forchion allegedly revealed the name of the confidential informant involved in the drug dealing case and sent threatening letters to the informant's family.

    The Weedman has been jailed for more than a year now. Massi struck down a request for his release after the November trial, citing witness testimony from Forchion's trial that proves "no amount of monetary bail or non-monetary conditions ... assure the safety of others."

    While Forchion continues to use Christopher Campbell as standby council, he plans to again represent himself in the May trial. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook. 


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    A family member found the girl unresponsive at her home in Evesham Township's Marlton section

    A suspected heroin dealer was charged with homicide on Monday after one of his customers - a 15-year-old girl - fatally overdosed just after Christmas last year.

    Austin Cooper.JPGAustin Cooper

    Austin Cooper, 21, of Willingboro, was charged with first-degree strict liability for drug-induced death, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

    On December 26, a family member found Madison McDonald unresponsive at her home in Evesham Township's Marlton section.

    She was barely alive and transported to Virtua Marlton Hospital, and later flown to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She died on December 28. 

    Authorities investigating McDonald's death found that Cooper delivered 10 bags of heroin to the home before she died. He was charged at the time possessing and dealing heroin.

    Poison peddler gets 12-year prison term for veteran's overdose death

    Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina has pledged to "aggressively" pursue the strict liability charge when possible in prosecution, to help fight the opioid epidemic.

    On that charge, a dealer can face 10 to 20 years in state prison, as opposed to three to five years for drug distribution.

    "We cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic," Coffina wrote in an Op-Ed in March. "...But law enforcement also must vigorously enforce the law to disrupt the distribution of these lethal substances."

    Cooper will appear in Superior Court in Mount Holly on Wednesday, where prosecutors will move to detain him, the county prosecutor's office said.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    10 states and Washington D.C. already have automatic voter registration laws on their books. Watch video

    A worthy bill designed to broaden the voter rolls in the Garden State passed both the state Assembly and the state Senate and is on its way to the governor's office.

    If Phil Murphy signs on as expected, individuals will be automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver's license at the Motor Vehicle Commission.

    As it stands now, citizens are given the option to register to vote when they apply for a license. Under the proposal, when eligible residents visit the MVC, their information would be electronically transferred to election officials, thereby registering them to vote unless they actively opt out.

    Additionally, a last-minute amendment allows any state agency that collects documents and personal data to establish a procedure to automatically register people to vote.

    According to The Hill, the newspaper that covers the U.S. Congress, such agencies would include the Office of Disability Services and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, among others.

    N.J. could help students who want to vote

    The bill has the support of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and other local organizations,

    "Automatic voter registration is shown to boost registration rates, save money, and, most importantly, it makes it easier for citizens to keep their voting information up to date to ensure they won't be turned away on election day," said Jesse Burns, executive director of the League, said in a statement.

    Expanding the registration process to other state agencies helps to include populations that don't generally interact with the MVC, Burns points out, including seniors and people living with disabilities.

    New Jersey would hardly be alone in moving in this direction: 10 states and Washington D.C. already have automatic voter registration laws on their books.

    In a related action, the Assembly's State Government Committee cleared a bill last week that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election if their 18th birthday falls by the time the general election rolls around in November.

    The move comes as youth activism nationwide is soaring, spurred partly by what many students see as an out-of-control federal government run by a narcissistic and power-hungry autocrat.

    But it's equally the result of rage - the rage of remaining powerless while the grown-ups in Congress refuse to curtail the power of the National Rifle Association, refuse to help stem the carnage that's killing their peers.

    Who more than these teenagers should have the power of the ballot in their hands?

    Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16th District), a sponsor of the bill, says more than 23,000 state residents would be eligible under the new policy.

    An inclusive democracy is a robust democracy. Both these bills recognize that truth, and both deserve to become law.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

     

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    A look at some of New Jersey's baseball alumni playing at the Division 1 level in college.


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    See the April 17th edition of the girls lacrosse Top 20.


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    Who's the best of the best?


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    Here is another look at players having a major impact in college softball this season


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    Hundreds officers attend the Mass at the The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption Watch video

    Church is often a place for quiet reflection.

    But on this day at The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, the soft silence was at times accented by the sharp and stirring sounds of bagpipes and drums echoing throughout the sanctuary during the 19th Blue Mass.

    The Mass, a celebration of law enforcement, is organized by numerous local law enforcement agencies and and the Diocese of Trenton.

    Principal celebrant Bishop David M. O'Connell told the capacity crowd of mostly law enforcement officers that "God alone helps us make sense out of the world."

    Adding, "My friends, God saves us from the darkness of this world."

    From the pulpit, he thanked God "for giving you, the women and men of law enforcement, the willingness and the readiness to lay down your life for your friends."

    Dignitaries sitting in the front pews included Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson and Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri.

    The student choir from Trenton Catholic Academy in Hamilton led the music, and students from Notre Dame High School in Lawrence were altar servers.

    Expo preview

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed giving school administrators the power - no, the responsibility - to warn other districts about teachers who have been accused of sexual abuse.

    The practice has an unappealing but appropriate nickname: "Pass the trash."

    For years, it was the widely accepted policy that allowed school administrators to move teachers suspected of behaving badly from job to job, from one public school to another, with no consequences.

    And now it is illegal.

    Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed giving school administrators the power - no, the responsibility - to warn other districts about teachers who have been accused of sexual abuse.

    The governor hailed the measure as "common-sense legislation (that) will begin to fill a serious gap in our hiring system."

    The signing comes four months after an investigation by NJ Advance Media revealed an unhealthy cycle that was decades in the making.

    N.J. Gov. Murphy says 'enough' as he signs law

    The reporters exposed cases of school officials who accepted resignations from men and women who have shown questionable - even potentially criminal - behavior, while taking no steps to bar them from teaching elsewhere.

    One teacher in the investigation been convicted of sexually assaulting six students in three different schools. Another faced indictment on charges that he sexually abused two teenagers in the 1990s.

    The system was allowed to continue - indeed, to flourish - because too many administrators were afraid of litigation, and wary of controversy. But in the end, it was the students who remained vulnerable.

    The new bill, which had strong bipartisan support in the state Legislature, requires schools to ask teachers' previous employers if the applicants were under investigation for misconduct at the time they resigned.

    It mandates that districts share complaints against former teachers unless the cases were proven false of unsubstantiated, while also granting legal immunity to districts that are sharing such data. It bans separation agreements that force districts to destroy or withhold files detailing those investigations.

    New Jersey joins a small but growing number of states enacting such measures, including neighboring Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

    While the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers, union, expressed concern about due process rights for its members, it did not take a formal stand against new policy.

    And once minor tweaks were made to the bill, other school groups such as the New Jersey School Boards Association came out in support.

    As the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of American have painfully learned, silence is not golden, especially when it comes to sweeping the truth about abusers under the carpet.

    In those cases, silence is catastrophic, especially when it puts our youngsters in harm's way.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    One died, one lived. And a third baby - a 10-month-old girl - was found dead in a suitcase next to train tracks


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    Flip-flop at the very top, other changes


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    Make your voice heard! Who is the state's best senior pitcher?


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    Goals, assists, saves and ground balls. Who's setting the pace so far this season?


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    In one incident, a man pointed a gun at a delivery driver, and another man was thrown to the ground and kicked

    Three police departments in Burlington County are hoping you've seen something that can help them find and arrest men who have been posing as officers and rifling through motorists' belongings this month.

    Florence, Burlington and Delanco townships are all on the lookout for suspects in separate incidents who claimed to be police officers, stopped a vehicle and searched the driver.

    Nothing was taken in the incidents, and the impersonators' descriptions differ in each.

    It's not clear if the incidents were related or if authorities are trying to determine a link between them. When asked about any common threads among the traffic stops, a county prosecutor's office spokesman said: "We are aware of the incidents."

    Not all the encounters were violent, but in one a man brandished a gun, while in another, a group of three men slammed a driver to the ground and kicked him. 

    All of the encounters have been in the dark, with two around midnight and another before sunrise.

    No arrests have been made so far. 

    In Florence Township

    On April 4, a man was delivering bread to a local business off Broad Street just after 5 a.m. There, a man in a dark-colored polo with a gold insignia on the left breast, and black pants, approached the delivery driver and pointed a gun at him. The man also had a holster on his hip. 

    He questioned the driver on what he was doing, and searched his pockets. The man asked to search the vehicle, too, Capt. Jonathan Greenberg said.

    The driver complied with the searches but later called the real police and gave them a very detailed description of what happened.

    "He was following what he thought to be the police officer's directions at the time," Greenberg said. "Obviously this is not all common practice of law enforcement. We would need much more probable cause than that."

    The driver was not up to anything suspicious, and any cop familiar with the area at that time of the morning would get to know routines like the bread deliveries, Greenberg added.

    The "officer" did not take anything, but left the scene in a newer dark-colored Ford Taurus that the victim said looked like an unmarked police car. It wasn't from Florence's police department or any nearby departments, Greenberg said -- they checked.

    In Delanco

    Three days later, on April 7, two white men waving flashlights stopped a driver on Burlington Avenue in Delanco. They were standing in the middle of the road around 12:10 a.m. when they ordered the driver out of the vehicle and searched him. The men then left the area on foot. 

    Delanco police put out a warning after receiving an anonymous report describing the stop. So far, they have not heard from anyone else who has witnessed a similar incident, Chief Jesse DeSanto said.

    "We were unable to find a link positively to any other incidents in the county," DeSanto said. 

    In Burlington Township

    The most violent of the incidents came on April 12, when three men stopped a driver on the Burlington Bypass.

    A large dark-colored Chevrolet or GMC SUV with emergency lights on the front windshield and bumper pulled over a 28-year-old man from Willingboro.

    Three men got out of the SUV and grabbed the man out of the vehicle, looked through his pockets for money and then threw him to the ground. They kicked the man before leaving in the SUV, heading toward Fountain Avenue.

    The man suffered minor injuries and was treated at Lourdes Medical Center.

    What to do

    Greenberg offered some tips if a police impersonator were to strike again. For one, try to pull over somewhere well-lit and populated, where other people can see you.

    Also, if an unmarked car is pulling you over, chances are a uniformed officer will be in the car, Greenberg said.

    Other departments that have posted tips suggest asking to see an officer's badge and making sure you are advised of the reason for the stop if you are unsure.

    Each department is still seeking tips on the incidents:

    • Florence can be reached at 609-499-3131 or 609-267-8300. They have an anonymous tip line here.
    • Burlington Township is asking anyone with information to contact Detective Ruben Ortiz-Cruz at 609-386-2019 or rortizcruz95@burltwppd.com.
    • Delanco Police can be reached at 856-461-0357 or at their anonymous tip line here.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips 


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    His lawyer says a judge made a miscue in the drug trial and plans an appeal

    A 32-year-old Trenton man who's been jailed since March 2014 faces 10 years in prison after being found guilty Wednesday for possession of heroin on Wednesday.

    But this was just the first of three trials for Markquice "Tank" Thomas, 32, in the coming months -- he's also facing murder charges for two Trenton shootings that turned fatal in 2012 and 2014.

    Markquice Thomas copy.jpgMarkquice Thomas

    Robin Lord, Thomas' defense attorney told NJ Advance Media Wednesday that Thomas didn't get a fair trial in the heroin possession case, saying the judge made one juror, who was black, an alternative because she thought he was sleeping. 

    "His reaction during the reading of the verdict led me to believe he did not agree with the verdict," she wrote in an email. "We will appeal." 

    The drugs case originated on March 11, 2014, when a Trenton police officer observed Thomas in a 2005 Mercury Montego on Waylan Avenue near P.J. Hill Elementary, Mercer County Prosecutors said Wednesday.

    Police wanted him for another incident, a shooting a few weeks earlier on 900 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard that left Joseph "Power God" Gaines paralyzed. Gaines later died from the shooting.

    When additional officers arrived at the scene, they ordered Thomas to remove his hands from his pockets, and out fell six glassine packets of heroin, prosecutors said. In his car, officers found another 500 packets of heroin.

    He was taken into custody, and has remained in jail ever since. 

    Officials charged Thomas with murder that month when Gaines died from his injuries.

    A year later, when a witness came forward, police also connected Thomas to the murder of Jared Littlejohn, who was found shot to death at an apartment complex in Ewing in September, 2012.

    Lord said she's "absolutely" representing Thomas for his future murder trials.

    He'll appear in court next on May 7 in Trenton superior court for a pretrial hearing. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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