Murder convictions overturned on prosecutor statements about suspect's grandmother
MOUNT HOLLY - An appeals court has overturned murder convictions for two Burlington County men who were serving 35-year prison terms.
Carey R. Greene, 28, and Tyleek Lewis , 30, were sentenced in September 2015 in connection with a fatal home-invasion robbery in Westampton.
The men, both armed, confronted 24-year-old Edward J. Baker Jr. inside his Berkshire Road residence in July 2010, then fled after Greene shot the victim in the chest, authorities said.
Monday’s ruling said an assistant prosecutor’s opening statement had “infected” their trial, and a judge’s effort to address the issue was inadequate.
The assistant prosecutor, Douglas Bligh, told jurors they would hear damning testimony from Greene’s grandmother, Ethel Smith of Willingboro.
Bligh said Smith would repeat her comments — previously made in a taped interview with an investigator — that Greene had told her he shot Baker by accident during a drug deal.
But the grandmother refused to testify, even after being found in contempt of court.
Smith claimed at a pretrial hearing that she had lied to the investigator in an effort to help Greene "by saying that it was an accident if he was involved in it."
Bligh, who later lost a bid to present Smith's out-of-court statement, also told jurors the woman was "stuck between the love of her grandson and testifying in court.”
The ruling described those remarks as “greatly amplifying the harm” of the opening statement.
“As a result, the jury was expecting either that Smith would testify Greene confessed to her, or Smith would fail to testify because she loved Greene too much to reveal his confession,” it said.
The appellate ruling noted Superior Court Judge Terrence Cooke had told jurors the prosecutor’s remarks about the grandmother were not evidence “and cannot be considered by you in your deliberations.”
But the decision said Cook “could not ‘unring the bell’ sounded by the assistant prosecutor."
It found a reasonable doubt that the opening statement “caused the jury to reach a result it would not have reached otherwise.”
The ruling acknowledged "strong evidence" against Greene and Lewis, who were Pemberton Township residents at the time of the holdup.
But it added the evidence "was not undisputed."
Among other points, it noted the jury did not convict a third man on trial with Greene and Lewis.
That man, Toney Holliday of Pemberton Township, allegedly stood outside the house during most of the robbery. His case ended in a mistrial.
It said a description of Greene provided by a woman at Baker’s house did not match his appearance in a convenience-store video a short time earlier.
It noted that witness said she recognized one of the masked gunmen as Greene “because she had seen pictures of him on social media five years before.”
And it said statements by a fourth accomplice, a Pemberton Township minor identified only as A.J., were “undercut by his lack of overall credibility,” the ruling said.
A.J., who also stood outside the house, received a seven-year term for aggravated manslaughter under a plea agreement.
The appeals panel ordered a new trial for Greene and Lewis, who were convicted of murder, robbery and burglary charges.
“We are carefully reviewing the opinion and weighing our options on how to proceed,” said Joel Bewley, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
Greene and Lewis would not have qualified for parole eligibility under their previous sentences until September 2040.
Jim Walsh: @jimwalsh_cp; 856-486-2646; firstname.lastname@example.org
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