Feb. 24, 2015
Essex County Jury Convicts Man of Killing Off-Duty Police Officer
Newark – Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced today that an Essex County jury has convicted Rasul McNeil-Thomas of aggravated manslaughter for killing off-duty police Officer William Johnson, a lifelong resident of Newark and a 16-year veteran of the Newark Police Department.
Following a four-week trial before the Honorable Judge Robert H. Gardner, Judge of the Superior Court, McNeil-Thomas, 23, of Newark was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Marissa Tarry and Ashley Lamar, both of Newark. Lamar was shot during the drive-by shooting. Tarry was the intended target but was not shot. She saw the defendant approaching and ran for cover.
“This was a senseless and tragic killing of a police officer who simply went to buy a slice of pizza. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time and caught a bullet intended for someone else,’’ said Assistant Prosecutor Romesh Sukhdeo, who tried the case with Assistant Prosecutor Magdalen Czykier.
Officer Johnson, a father of two, was shot on May 26, 2011while ordering a slice of pizza at the Texas Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant on Lyons Avenue in the city of Newark, just blocks from his home, according to Assistant Prosecutor Sukhdeo. He died from his injuries at 3 a.m. on May 27, 2011.
In court, Assistant Prosecutor Sukhdeo argued that the defendant, seeking retribution because his mother had been punched in the face by a group of girls, decided to go by the Texas Fried Chicken, where the girls involved in the fight were known to hang out, and opened fire on the restaurant.
“We never believed he intended to kill Officer Johnson, but sadly he was killed,’’ said Assistant Prosecutor Czykier. “This defendant was aiming for the young woman who assaulted his mother earlier in the day.’’
McNeil-Thomas was also found guilty of carjacking and conspiracy to commit a carjacking. The vehicle used in the drive-by shooting was carjacked from the driveway of a nearby house. The occupant of the car was sitting in the passenger seat of the idling vehicle when she was ordered out of the car by the defendant and an unidentified co-conspirator. She was not physically harmed.
McNeil-Thomas was acquitted of the more serious offense of murder. He was also found not guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, a charge stemming from the fact that there was a baby in a baby carriage at the time he opened fire on the restaurant.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 24 by Judge Gardner. McNeil-Thomas faces life in prison.
McNeil-Thomas was found guilty of the following charges:
- Conspiracy to commit carjacking
- Conspiracy to commit murder
- Aggravated Manslaughter
- Two counts of unlawful possession of a handgun
- Possession of a firearm with a purpose to use it unlawfully against a person or property
- Two counts of attempted murder
- Two counts of aggravated assault
- Reckless aggravated assault
McNeil-Thomas was acquitted of the following charges:
- Attempted murder
- Endangering the welfare of a child