SOMERVILLE - The sentencing of two brothers who plead guilty to manslaughter in the 2013 fatal shooting of an aspiring rapper left the victim's family unsatisfied and upset Friday in Somerset County Superior Court.
Zaire Cromedy, 24, of New Brunswick, and Antwan Cromedy, 31, of Bound Brook, were facing a minimum of 30 years in prison terms if they had been convicted of murder in the Dec. 29, 2013, killing of New Brunswick resident Eric Andrews, Jr., 28, a hip-hop artist who performed under the moniker "E-9."
Instead, under a plea agreement following two trials in which jurors were unable to reach a verdict, Zaire Cromedy was sentenced to six years and Antwan Cromedy was given a five-year prison term.
"You may have received a slap on the wrist by the justice system, but God will have the final judgement," said Africa Andrews, Eric's stepmother.
Eric Andrews, Jr.'s father, Eric Andrews, Sr., and his mother, Andrea Seymore, also expressed anger over the leniency of the sentence during victim impact statements, as did Superior Court Judge Robert B. Reed, who called the killing over a dice game at a Franklin Township salon "senseless" and "stupid."
"The state was facing an all-or-nothing proposition when faced with a third trial," said Reed. "They could've walked out of here free men."
Aspiring N.J. rapper killed over dice game
Assistant Prosecutor Robert Hawkes apologized to the family for not being able to secure a guilty verdict and "get the resolution you so richly deserved."
The pair entered into the plea agreement on the eve of a third trial last month.
Under the terms of the agreement, Zaire Cromedy pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon - a gun. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a handgun.
Zaire Cromedy was sentenced to the six years with 85 percent parole ineligibility. Having already served 37 months in prison, he will be eligible for parole in 23 months.
Antwan Cromedy pleaded guilty to second-degree reckless manslaughter and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose - a knife. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a weapon.
Antwan Cromedy was sentenced to the five years with 85 percent parole ineligibility. Having already served 37 months in prison, he will be eligible for parole in 14 months.
Assistant Prosecutor Jamin Cooper was the second chair in the long-running case.
"We think it was a fair outcome," said attorneys Edward J. Hesketh and Amber Forrester, who represented Zaire Cromedy and Antwan Cromedy, respectively. "The state had a tough case with the way the witnesses were going.
"As Judge Reed said, this is the best they could've hoped for. Hopefully, the family will get some measure of closure."
In the first trial, Antwan Cromedy was acquitted of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose and unlawful possession of a handgun.
Antwan Cromedy gave his brother, Zaire, the gun on Dec. 29 and told him to shoot Andrews as he ran toward the back door of Nu Trendz Hair Salon on Somerset Street following an argument over a dice game in which Antwan pulled a knife, according to the prosecution.
Zaire Cromedy fired one shot at Eric Andrews, Jr., as he ran toward the door, prosecutors have stated.
In both trials, a pair of eye-witnesses recanted their testimony after initially telling police the day after the killing that Zaire Cromedy was the shooter.
Eric Andrews, Jr. was part of a rap duo along with longtime friend George Opoku, also known as 6FO. The up-and-coming pair had been scheduled to perform at SOB's in New York and had previously performed alongside prominent artists, including hip-hop superstar Waka Flocka Fame, for the song "M.O.N.E.Y."
Dave Hutchinson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DHutch_SL. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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