The prosecution in the trial of accused Lakewood cop killer Jahmell Crockam said that they can prove the 20-year-old fatally shot Lakewood officer Christopher Matlosz. The defense, however, contends that the physical evidence placing the accused at the scene does not hold up.
During the first day of trial proceedings before Judge Wendel E. Daniels at the Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River, defense attorney Mark Fury said that the prosecution has no murder weapon, nor any DNA or fingerprint evidence proving Crockam pulled the trigger.
"Officer Matlosz was killed by a man in dark clothing, and that's really all they have," he said.
William J. Heisler, chief assistant Ocean County prosecutor, said Crockam could be placed at the murder scene by witnesses and had confessed to multiple people that he killed the 27-year-old officer in January 2011.
"That man, Jahmell Crockam, in broad daylight and cold blood executed officer Christopher Matlosz of the Lakewood Police Department," Heisler said as he pointed to the defendant in front of a jury of nine women and seven men. Crockam, who wore a pale yellow dress shirt and tie, rather than the orange and white prison uniform he had been wearing to pre-trial proceedings, stared forward as Heisler spoke.
Heisler described an account of Matlosz' murder, in which the defendant allegedly shot the officer, who was seated in his marked patrol car, three times on Jan. 14, 2011.
Matlosz was alerted that police were looking for him on outstanding arrest warrants, Heisler said. A call was made to a Golf View apartment to inquire if Crockam, known by the street name "Sav," had been seen in the area. Crockam just happened to be in that apartment. The woman who received the call handed him the .38 caliber revolver and told him to leave, Heisler said.
Matlosz arrived at the neighborhood at about the same time, and after conferring with dispatch, identified Crockam as a wanted man, Heisler said. In his patrol car, Matlosz then approached Crockam on August Drive and asked for identification.
"As the officer attempted to open his door, rather than pulling out his ID, he went into his right pocket, removed a .38 caliber revolver and shot Officer Matlosz in the back of the neck," Heisler said.
Heisler said that Crockam then put the gun inside of the vehicle and fired a second bullet into Matlosz' face.
"Then, to make sure he was dead, he put the gun a couple of inches from his head and fired a third shot into officer Matlosz' left temple," Heisler said.
Heisler then alleged that Crockam fled the scene and arranged for a ride to Camden from a friend. Crockam admitted to this friend, as well as others, that he killed Matlosz, according to Heisler. The defendant also said that going to jail was not an option.
"You'll hear testimony that he told more than one person, on more than one occasion, that he would kill a cop before he went to jail," Heisler said.
Though Heisler contends that three people witnessed the shooting and two can identify Crockam as the shooter, Fury said that five other people near the scene were wearing dark-colored clothing that matched Crockam's description.
Though Fury did not deny that Matlosz was killed in Lakewood at a time when his client was in the township, he said that authorities moved too quickly to build a case and pegged the murder on Crockam since he was already wanted on other warrants.
"They move fast to find someone to hang it on," he said. "They moved fast to close down as quickly as possible any speculation of who did this."
Fury also said that many witnesses may have struck deals with the prosecution for their testimony and may not be trustworthy.
"It's a mess. It's a mess," he said of some witnesses. "Some will change like leaves in the wind on the witness stand."
Following the opening statements, a Lakewood police sergeant took the witness stand before the court took a break for lunch. Before adjourning, Daniels said that statements made by Crockam in prison to other inmates that he killed the officer would be admissible in court.