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Advocates for Victims Seek to Keep Trial in Morris

The Star-Ledger Archive
COPYRIGHT © The Star-Ledger 2005
Date: 2005/01/30 Sunday Page: 035 Section: COUNTY NEWS Edition: STATE Size: 697 words
Advocates for Victims Seek to Keep Trial in Morris
Lawyers fighting change of venue in Funcoland double homicide

A state agency that gives financial help to crime victims intends to step into a Morris County courtroom to fight an accused double murderer’s attempt to have his trial moved elsewhere in New Jersey.

Richard Pompelio, chairman of the state Victims of Crime Compensation Board, said he agreed to represent the family of a Roxbury computer game store manager who was shot in the head when he arrived at work on Dec. 1, 2002.

Attorney James Porfido is representing the other victim’s family and will be paid through a new VCCB fund providing legal assistance to victims, Pompelio said.

“We’re a victims’ rights agency, and my philosophy has always been ‘whatever the victim needs.’ If legal advocacy is a part of it, why not do it?” Pompelio said. Last year, the VCCB trained 110 attorneys to represent crime victims in criminal and civil court and created a way for attorneys to be paid $125 an hour, up to $1,000.

Pompelio and Porfido are asking a Morris County judge to let them argue alongside the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to oppose a change of venue for the capital murder trial of Omar Thomas for the Funcoland killings.

The VCCB first took the role of courtroom advocate last summer, joining the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office in opposition to the Asbury Park Press obtaining a recording of a shooting victim’s 911 call just before he died. The judge ruled in favor of the victim’s family.

In December, the VCCB filed a motion asking a Somerset County judge to force serial killer Charles Cullen to appear in court for sentencing so he could “hear the voices and see the faces of the victims he has created through his criminal acts.”

The 50-page motion included pleas from family members of four of the 17 patients Cullen has admitted to murdering while working as a registered nurse at three New Jersey hospitals.

In the Funcoland case, Thomas, 27, faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Erik Rewoldt, 26, and Jeffrey Eresman, 22, at the Funcoland store in the Roxbury Mall. The prosecution claims Thomas recruited his two cousins to hold up the store minutes after it opened.

Eresman, the store’s assistant manager, was shot twice in the head in a back room. Rewoldt was shot at close range when he walked in on the robbery. The Irvington man and his two cousins were captured 11 months later, and last year the cousins took plea deals that will give them reduced prison terms in exchange for their cooperation.

Defense attorney Peter Adolf filed a motion in December to have Thomas’ trial moved out of Morris County, citing heavy publicity about the daytime slayings at a busy Route 10 shopping mall and the yearlong manhunt that followed.

Adolf argued the prosecutor’s office, and specifically Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio, created a “blatantly false image” that Omar Thomas was “a cold-blooded killer who planned and executed both of these homicides entirely on his own.”

After Thomas’ indictment in the capital case, his teenage cousin admitted that he fired one of the shots at Eresman, but the prosecution contends Thomas fired the fatal one, according to court papers.

Pompelio and Porfido will join Assistant Prosecutors John McNamara Jr. and Peter Foy in fighting the trial’s relocation.

“It’s the defense’s obligation to show they can’t get a fair trial, and I don’t think there is any showing of that,” Porfido said.

Nancy Patak, Eresman’s mother, said she wants the trial held in Morristown, the county seat.

“I don’t want to see it moved,” Patak said. She is glad to have a VCCB lawyers represent the families. “I think we need to have a say in all this.”

Pompelio said he is getting sworn statements from Rewoldt’s family, including his widow that “attest to the financial and emotional burden it’s going to be on their family if the case is moved.”

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