A family friend said that he accompanied two men to dispose of Jahmell Crockam's gun after the suspect confessed to him that he shot a Lakewood police officer.
"The cop seemed like he was reaching, so he shot first," Corey Rua said as he recalled speaking with Crockam in a Camden apartment about his encounter with officer Christopher Matlosz the night after the patrolman was killed in January, 2011.
"I asked if he was cleaned up and disposed of the clothes," Rua said. Crockam responded that he had done both, according to the witness.
Rua, 41, a longtime friend of Crockam's mother, testified before Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels on Thursday afternoon that he knew the 20-year-old suspect for the past two years.
Crockam's uncle asked that Rua travel to the Camden apartment belonging to Angel Howard, where Crockam was staying to speak with the suspect the night of the shooting.
"At first, he said that he didn't do it," Rua said. But when he continued asking, Crockam opened up and confessed, Rua testified. Rua said that he asked Crockam where the gun was.
"'It's right here,' and he pulled it out of his pocket," he said, adding that he did not see the weapon because it was in a sock.
Rua and two others from Camden took an about 30-minute car drive to an area on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and disposed of the gun, he said.
Rua recalled the events on the day when Matlosz, a Manchester resident, was killed on August Drive in Lakewood. The witness said that he was in Jackson on the day that he received a call from Crockam asking for a ride from the Golf View apartments in Lakewood. Rua told him he could not help, but Crockam called back 10 minutes later, again asking for a ride, Rua said.
About an hour later, Rua received a call from Quamel Peteete saying that Danielle Bergamotto was driving them to Camden. Crockam's uncle then asked Rua to go to the apartment belonging to Angel Howard in Camden to speak with the suspect.
When he began his testimony, Rua admitted that he made a living doing odd jobs and selling drugs. William J. Heisler, chief assistant Ocean County prosecutor, read the multiple drug convictions Rua has faced and noted that he has pending charges for intent to sell marijuana. As a repeat offender, his charges could get him more than 10 years in prison.
Heisler asked if Rua had been promised anything by testifying in court.
"No sir, I haven't," Rua said.
"But you're hoping this will do you some good?" Heisler asked, to which Rua responded affirmatively.
Rua's credibility was called into question by defense attorney Mark Fury, who asked the witness whether he cooperates with police when it keeps him out of jail.
"You cooperate when you have to, don't you?" Fury asked.
"I don't want to go to jail," Rua said. "I have to."
Fury pointed out some inconsistencies in Rua's statements and questioned why he is testifying against Crockam.
"This is all a made-up story to get out of your 10 to 20 years," Fury said.
Fury also confirmed with Rua that he did not see any weapon, and asked how there were no witnesses when the gun was disposed of in an area near the river where Rua said people were sitting in their cars.
"Nobody pays attention," he said. "Everyone minds their own business."
Another witness Thursday said that Crockam admitted to the crime while the two were in jail. Ronnie Crippen, who is facing mutliple charges totalling more than 126 consecutive years in prison, testified that Crockam shot Matlosz to avoid jail.
"He came to my cell and started talking to me. He told me that he shot the officer," Crippen said. "He said the reason why was because he had prior charges and didn't want to go to jail."
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Michael Weatherstone asked Crippen to clarify if he meant warrants, rather than charges, to which the witness responded affirmatively.
Crippen testified that Crockam told him how the shooting happened.
"He said he was going in his pocket to get his ID and pulled out the gun real fast," Crippen said. After a cell mate told the pair to stop discussing the charges, they never spoke about the incident again, according to Crippen.
Fury asked why Crippen, who said that he knew Crockam for about seven months but only in passing before going to jail, would choose to speak with him about the charges. He also asked if the potential of a 120-year jail sentence was the reason he took the stand.
"That would be a pretty big incentive to cooperate?" Fury asked, to which Crippen agreed.
Earlier in the day, that cell phone records show the phone used to Crockam was transported by Camden shortly after Matlosz was shot. Proceedings are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, Feb. 14.