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Mastermind in Clinton Avenue Five case permitted to represent self

CHARISSE L. WAUGH Special to the AmNews | 7/20/2011, 5:09 p.m.

There was speculation that Hampton, whose taped confession is the foundation of the state's case, was going to plead guilty on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Peter Guarino refused to deny it. Guarino would only say that his office and Hampton's lawyers required more time to discuss issues in the case.

Since Evans and Hampton were arraigned last March, only two relatives of the young men have consistently attended hearings. There were four additional family members at the courthouse on Tuesday; all of them live outside of New Jersey. It appeared from their showing that something important was going to happen regarding Hampton.

Guarino said that he hadn't told any of the relatives to be in court. However, Rogers Taylor, 54, the older brother of Ernest, contradicted Guarino. "He called me and told me to come down."

Most of the relatives had arrived at 9 a.m., and it wasn't until noon that Guarino told them Hampton's hearing was postponed. Hampton is currently in jail. Guarino was asked if Hampton was at the courthouse, but he would not comment. If Hampton pleads guilty, he may be required to tell the story of what happened to Turner, McDowell, Johnson, Pittman and Taylor on that summer evening 32 years ago.

"So close yet so far," commented a disappointed Gerald McDowell, 52. McDowell, the older cousin of Michael, traveled from Long Island to attend Tuesday's hearing. Before the prosecutor announced that proceedings were called off, McDowell was optimistic, telling a reporter, "This is the beginning of what I hope will be the end."

"We need to close this chapter in our family," added Troy Cowan, 38. Cowan traveled from Delaware for Tuesday's hearing. He was 8 when his cousin Michael went missing. "He was my everything; he was the big brother I never had."

McDowell and Cowan doted on their aunt Cleo McDowell, 68, who was visiting from Las Vegas, as she waited outside the courtroom to possibly face one of the men accused of killing her nephew.

Taylor, who resides in Baltimore but is staying in Newark until the trial begins, was resigned as he left court. "It's been like this for 30 years," he said, "Waiting."