A jury convicted Paterson Police Officer Jose Urena on Monday of leaving the scene of an accident in Paterson that killed JaQuill Fields and injured his brother Ameen.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for three days before finding Urena guilty of leaving the scene of a fatal accident in 2015 and endangering the victim of an accident. Judge Adam E. Jacobs accepted a motion by the prosecution to revoke Urenas $50,000 bail, and he was led away to the county jail to await sentencing.
Urena, 32, broke down in tears as the jury foreman pronounced him guilty on both counts, breaking the tension that had enveloped the courtroom for three days.
Urena put his head down and heaved loud sobs. His fiancée, Rosie Morel, and members of his family also began weeping.
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On the other side of the courtroom were JaQuill Fields mother, Naomi, and her family and friends. They collapsed into one anothers arms after the verdict was read. Moments later they left the courtroom, and a few started clapping after they spilled out into the hallway.
Back inside the courtroom, Jacobs had a decision to make: whether to allow Urena, a nine-year member of the Paterson Police Department with no prior criminal convictions, to remain free to await sentencing. Assistant Prosecutor Peter Foy argued that a conviction on the more serious charge, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, carries a presumption of incarceration, so continuing Urenas bail posed a substantial risk that he might flee.
Saying that he was humbled and honored, Abdelaziz, first appointed to the seat by his colleagues on the Paterson City Council, said the victory belongs to every resident of our community, and to all who made their voices heard …
Urenas attorney, Anthony Iacullo, countered that Urena has appeared for “each and every” court session since he was charged in June 2015, had no prior criminal record, and has a supportive family behind him.
But the judge deemed the risk for flight too great, and revoked his bail. More wails erupted from the courtroom, and Urena turned as he was being led away. His fiancée rushed forward to embrace him, but sheriffs officers would not allow her to get near him.
Earlier trial coverage: Paterson cop on trial for hit-and-run death testifies: He thought he hit a pothole
Urena, a member of the Paterson narcotics squad, was driving home to North Haledon near sundown on the evening of June 16, 2015, at the end of a 15-hour shift. Another Paterson police officer, Sgt. Sal Macolino, was in front of him, also heading home, when Urena suddenly peeled out and accelerated up Temple Street.
At the top of the hill, near the intersection with North Fifth Street, was JaQuill Fields, 23, walking in the street with his brother, Ameen. A home security camera captured Urenas white Mercedes-Benz striking the two young men, then veering slightly left and continuing without stopping.
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That video was played for the jury at trial. Macolino and other Paterson police officers were at the scene within a minute, and Ameen told them of a white car that had struck them from behind. JaQuill Fields died a short time later at St. Josephs Regional Medical Center in Paterson.
PATERSON, NJ- Paterson Police Officer Jose Urena faces up to ten years in jail following his conviction of charges that stemmed from the hit-and-run death of JaQuill Fields, a 23-year old Paterson man.
Ameen survived the accident and likely would have been a key witness for the state. But he died 10 months later when he hit a car while riding his dirt bike a few blocks away.
That left the state to build its case around forensic evidence and surveillance video. A piece of a broken headlight recovered at the scene was examined at the state police lab and found to match Urenas 2011 white Mercedes. There were also a series of cracks in the windshield and a pushed-in right side-view mirror, which the state argued were caused by the impact.
Urena testified at the trial. He never knew he had hit the two men. He told the jury he thought his car had merely hit a pothole. As for the cracks in the windshield, Urena testified that he never noticed them on his 1½-mile drive to his North Haledon home.
Foy tried to convince the jury that the cracks had to have come from the accident, because Urena testified that they were not there when he went to work that morning or when he got behind the wheel to drive home from police headquarters that night.
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During summations, Foy told the jury that the defense wanted them to believe “the ludicrous proposition” that Urena never noticed his windshield was cracked. The defense countered that the initial crack could have been so small that it was unnoticeable, but it got bigger after the car was impounded and investigators moved the vehicle on a flatbed.
Urena testified that he arrived home that night, parked his car in the driveway and never checked for damages. Exhausted, Urena went upstairs and took a shower, he said, and then passed out on the bed.
He didnt awaken until around 1:30 in the morning, when Paterson police came to the door asking about an accident. His car was impounded after he was taken to police headquarters for questioning. He was charged the next morning with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Urena was initially suspended without pay when he was charged. But he was later reinstated with pay in accordance with the police contract. Paterson Police Chief Troy Oswald testified as a character witness and told the jury that Urena was “hand-picked” for the narcotics squad because he was honest and reliable.
The guilty verdict came after a deliberation that lasted nearly three full days. The jury got the case on Thursday, then spent most of the day without reaching a verdict. Around 3 p.m., a juror informed the judge she had a flight to catch to Florida that night, and she was excused.
A new juror was selected, and the panel then spent the rest of Thursday and all day Friday deliberating without reaching a unanimous decision. They returned on Monday, and around 11 a.m. they asked for a playback of Urenas testimony.
That took a little over an hour, and the jury then broke for lunch. Shortly before 2 p.m., the jury informed the judge that it had reached a verdict.
A Paterson police officer was found guilty by a jury Monday for fatally striking a 23-year-old city resident with his car and fleeing the scene in 2015.
A jury convicted Jose Urena, 32, of North Haledon after deliberating for close to three days, northjersey.com reported.
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Urena was off-duty on June 16, 2015 when he struck Jaquill Fields, 23, around 8:30 p.m. near Fourth and Temple streets in Paterson authorities have said.
Emergency responders found Fields seriously injured, and he was taken to St. Josephs Regional Medical Center, where he later died.
Urena was charged following an “intensive investigation” by the Passaic County Prosecutors Offices Vehicular Homicide Unit, which also recovered the vehicle involved, authorities said. He was indicted in March 2016.
Urena was suspended without pay following his arrest, Police Director Jerry Speziale said in 2015.
Paige Gross may be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @By_paigegross.