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N.J. schoolyard slayings killer sentenced

By Chris Kokenes, CNN
  • Jovel sentenced to a total of 245 years
  • The victims were shot execution-style
  • A second defendant is already in prison

New York (CNN) -- A 21-year-old triggerman, who admitted he alone fatally shot three college friends in a Newark, New Jersey, schoolyard and critically injured a fourth, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.

Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin handed down the sentence for Melvin Jovel, who admitted murdering Iofemi Hightower, 20, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Terrance Aeriel,18. Jovel also entered a guilty plea to attempting to murder the surviving victim, Natasha Aeriel, who was 19 years old at the time of the attack in August 2007. The victims, who had gathered to socialize behind a school, were made to kneel against a wall before they were shot execution-style in the head, authorities said.

Ravin sentenced Jovel to a total of 245 years. He received three life sentences for each murder and 20 years for attempted murder according to a representative of the Essex County prosecutors office.

Jovel, one of two suspects involved, pleaded guilty September 21, 2010 to three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and weapons charges in Newark Superior Court as part of a plea deal, according to the Essex County prosecutors.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, conspiracy, robbery and additional weapons charges were dismissed.

In May, Rodolfo Godinez, the first defendant to be tried for the slayings, was found guilty on all 17 counts. Godinez was involved in gang recruiting and characterized himself as the ringleader of a group of defendants who used a handgun and a machete to attack the four friends.

He is now serving 216 years in state prison.

CNN's Laura Batchelor contributed to this report