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3 suspects plead not guilty in suspected bias murders

By Jesse Solomon, CNN
Marquise Foster, left, and Alrashim Chambers are charged with murder in the death of Victoria White.
Marquise Foster, left, and Alrashim Chambers are charged with murder in the death of Victoria White.
  • Prosecutors are investigating the two killings as bias crimes
  • The cases are unconnected, authorities say
  • Both victims were killed in Maplewood, New Jersey

New York (CNN) -- Three men pleaded not guilty Wednesday in separate killings in Maplewood, New Jersey, that prosecutors are investigating as bias crimes, according to the Essex County Prosecutors' office.

Essex County Prosecutor spokeswoman Katherine Carter said Marquise L. Foster, 25, of North Plainfield and Alrashim N. Chambers, 23, of Newark, are charged with murder and weapons violations in the September 12 shooting death of Victoria Carmen White, 28, of Newark.

In the other case, John Staten, 30, of Orange, pleaded not guilty to murder, felony murder, burglary, and weapons offenses, Carter said. He is accused of the March 15, 2010, murder of 27-year-old Arthur Downey.

She said the cases are not connected.

Foster and Chambers met White at a nightclub in Irvington, then returned with her and two other people to the apartment "to continue partying," according to a statement from acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino. "An altercation occurred and White was killed," he said.

In the murder of Downey, Laurino said the two men met in a telephone chat room. Downey's female roommate found him beaten to death in bed in his Maplewood apartment, the prosecutor said. His 2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer was missing.

"It's our understanding that he was openly gay," said Carter. "We have a special unit that looks at cases to determine whether there is a legal basis to bring bias-crime charges, and that unit within our office will be reviewing both of these cases."

All three suspects are being held on $1 million bail, Carter said.

Maplewood, a quiet community about a half-hour's drive west of New York City, has not had a murder since 2007.

CNN's Tom Watkins contributed to this report