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Conviction in Newark schoolyard murders

Glenn Townes | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

On Monday morning, a jury in Newark convicted the alleged leader of a notorious gang of murdering three Newark-area students during the summer of 2007. It a was a crime that made national headlines and at the time, branded the Brick City as one of the most violent places in the country.

In total, deliberations that took less than three days. A grand jury of eight women and four men convicted Rodolfo Godinez, 26, on all 17 charges, including felony murder, attempted murder, robbery and weapons charges. He will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Through graphic testimony, DNA evidence and crime scene photos, the prosecution was able to overwhelming prove that Godinez was an active participant in the horrific execution-style murders. He was the first of six defendants to go on trial in the murders of Dashon Harvey, Iofemi Hightower and Terrance Aeriel in a Newark schoolyard in August 2007. A fourth victim, Natasha Aeriel, was shot, cut with a machete and assaulted, but survived the attack and testified for the prosecution.

The defense team failed to fully convince jurors that Godinez, while present at the murder scene, was mentally retarded and incapable of orchestrating the killings.

Families of the victims spoke to reporters shortly after the verdict was read.

"I feel a sense of relief," said Shalga Hightower, mother of Iofemi Hightower. "It would be hard for any mother to come in everyday and hear testimony and see photos of your daughter, but I get my strength from God, and I'm here until the end."

James Harvey, father of Dashon Harvey, said of the defendant, "Seeing him come in court everyday with that smirk on his face--we had the last laugh."

Godinez will be sentenced in July. There is no word on when the second trial in the case will begin. Godinez' brother is also a defendant in the case.