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Guilty on all counts


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  • Guilty on all counts

    Guilty on all counts

    Tuesday, June 28, 2005

    The jury foreman looked Luis Hernandez in the eyes as he said, "Guilty." That word was said 10 times Monday, with the jury convicting the Passaic man of every charge he faced for the 2003 slaying of Clifton Police Officer John Samra.

    Hernandez, 40, remained completely still as the verdict was read. He faces 30 years to life in prison when state Superior Court Judge Edward Gannon sentences him on Aug. 26.

    Samra's supporters sat on one side of the Paterson courtroom - the left - while Hernandez's backers sat on the other during the three-week trial. The rival camps would sometimes exchange passing glances, and little else.

    But when the outcome was announced, the supporters on the left cheered while those on the right gasped in anguish.

    "We are just relieved that it's over and very happy with the verdict," said Michele Em, Samra's sister. Em attended every day of the trial, and was surrounded by family members, friends and Clifton officers.

    Since the jury went into deliberation Wednesday, Em had wandered the courthouse hallways, waiting for an answer.

    "We'll never put this behind us, but at least this part is over," she said outside the courtroom, tears streaming down her face. "It's been a trying time for all of us."

    Across the hallway, Hernandez's family members wriggled in despair. They declined comment.

    The timing of the verdict, reached at around 3 p.m. Monday, came as a surprise. The jury had spent most of the day listening to a readback of testimony. They went into the jury room for a few minutes and then signaled that they had reached a verdict. Many in both camps had expected a verdict today.

    Following the verdict, jurors said they had decided on most of the charges very early in the deliberations. The looming question, they said, was if Hernandez was high on cocaine at the time of the fatal accident - which would make him subject to more penalties. After hearing the readback Tuesday of expert testimony, jurors said they decided that he was under the influence of a narcotic.

    It was around 10 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2003, that Samra pulled Hernandez over for a traffic violation. But Hernandez, a repeat drug offender with a suspended license and a pending drug case, sped off. Samra, a motorcycle police officer, then tried to head Hernandez off by using a shortcut. But Hernandez, who had cocaine in his system, drove through a stop sign and his minivan collided with Samra's Harley-Davidson at Maple Place and Washington Avenue.

    Samra was sent flying into nearby shrubs and died on the scene. He suffered two skull fractures, broken ribs, a broken leg and breaks to his pelvic bone.

    Hernandez darted out of the minivan, stepping over Samra's body. He was tackled and detained by two residents half a block away.

    The defense had said Hernandez was guilty of some of the charges before him - but not others - and that the Prosecutor's Office had overcharged him.

    The jury foreman, who declined to be identified, said following Monday's verdict, "No way. Not for what happened that day. What that guy did that day was horrific."

    James Wilson, the prosecutor who tried the case, called the defense's claims "irrelevant" at trial. Wilson said Monday, "The jury gave this a lot of time and thought and turned over a just verdict."

    More than 3,000 people attended Samra's funeral. The 41-year-old from Butler - a 15-year veteran - is the only officer to die in the line of duty in Clifton's 85-year existence.

    His name is etched on the memorial that stands outside the Passaic County Police Academy in Wayne, and a plaque with his picture greets visitors at the entrance of Clifton City Hall. This weekend, a playground for handicapped children was dedicated to his memory with $150,000 raised in his name.

    Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi, who keeps a photograph of Samra in uniform posted on a bulletin board outside his second-floor office in City Hall, said, "This can't bring back John's life, but justice is served by guilty verdicts on all counts."

    Born and raised in Clifton, Samra served as a military police officer in the Air Force and then became a Clifton officer. He was an avid biker and member of the Renegade Pigs, a group of law enforcement members who share a love of motorcycles.

    Friends and officers said Samra was all about laughter, love of his job, serving the community, and life in general.

    "We feel relieved," said Clifton Detective Capt. Robert Rowan. "It gives us a little sense of closure."

  • #2
    Hail hail the gang's all here, when the going gets tough I know my friends will still be there. - Drop Kick Murphys, "The Gang's all Here"


    • #3
      RIP John,

      Go to hell Hernandez


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