WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Seattle man accused of killing Livingston college student Brendan Tevlin in June 2014 was convicted on all counts of an unrelated armed robbery of a man in West Orange.
Following a two-week trial before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle, a jury found Ali Muhammad Brown, 30, guilty on Nov. 17 of robbery, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and unlawful possession of hollow-point bullets, also called “cop-killer” bullets, which are illegal to carry in New Jersey.
On July 10, 2014, at approximately 6 a.m., Brown emerged from a wooded area, where he had set up a campsite, and robbed the West Orange victim using a 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun. The robbery occurred in the parking lot of the Crest Ridge apartment complex on the 200 block of Mount Pleasant Avenue in West Orange. In addition to pointing a handgun at the victim, Brown also threatened to shoot the him, then forced him into the trunk of the his own BMW and took the keys.
Brown also took the victim’s driver’s license, credit cards, Apple iPhone, computer tablet and other personal items. In the following few days, Brown used the victim’s credit card at several locations in Essex and Union counties. On July 18, 2014, law enforcement personnel captured Brown and arrested him in his makeshift campsite in the woods a few hundred yards from the location of the robbery.
“The defendant’s criminality in this case was a clear and present danger to the community,” Assistant Prosecutor Jamel Semper said in a release from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. “This outcome was made possible by the extraordinary work of Sgt. Dennis McCole and Officer Raymond Rosania of the West Orange Police Department, along with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force.”
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, except for two days during jury selection, Brown refused to leave his cell and participate in his defense. The trial moved forward after Petrolle ruled against a motion filed by Brown’s attorney, Albert Kapin, to suppress evidence — which included a handgun and some of the stolen items — seized when Brown was arrested by West Orange police. In his ruling, Petrolle cited the police’s lawful search and evidence retrieval coupled with the defendant’s failure to provide an alternative to the prosecution’s set of facts.
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2016. While the state will be seeking the maximum penalty of 20 years, Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Katherine Carter said, “If he is sentenced to 20 years, he would have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.” That would mean 17 years of jail time.
Of course, this case could be considered small in light of the trials looming in Brown’s future.
Brown is facing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after being charged with terrorism, a first-degree crime with which no one in New Jersey’s history has ever been previously charged. Brown, a self-described devout Muslim, told investigators that he killed Tevlin as “vengeance” for the “millions of lives” lost “every day” in places such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, according to court documents. Carter previously told the Chronicle, however, that the Prosecutor’s Office is not alleging that Brown is affiliated with any particular terrorist group.
Despite Brown’s alleged statements of motive, on Aug. 4, he pleaded not guilty to Tevlin’s murder before Essex County Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler.
Tevlin, a University of Richmond student home on summer break, was driving to his home in Livingston at approximately midnight on June 25, 2014, when a vehicle carrying several people, allegedly including Brown and West Orange residents Eric Williams and Jeremy Villagran, pulled up behind him at a traffic light at the intersection of Walker Road and Northfield Avenue.
According to Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, a group of passengers, including Brown and Villagran, reportedly exited their car and surrounded Tevlin’s, before Brown allegedly shot 10 times through the passenger window, striking Tevlin eight times and killing him.
Two of the suspects, one allegedly being Villagran, fled on foot, according to Murray. Brown reportedly entered Tevlin’s Jeep Liberty, moved his body to the passenger seat and drove to the Ron Jolyn apartment complex on Northfield Avenue, where Villagran was a resident, she said. Brown then allegedly stole some of Tevlin’s personal items before exiting the vehicle.
Williams and Villagran originally faced charges in the case as well, though the charges were eventually dropped, with Murray explaining it was decided this was the “appropriate course of action” after reviewing evidence.
Though not facing charges in the Tevlin case, Villagran will go to prison on an unrelated matter; he shot a man, who has since recovered, on July 8, 2014, in Newark, and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, conspiracy and unlawful possession of a weapon. Williams is also not yet in the clear, as he was charged with the alleged attack and robbery of a West Orange youth in May 2014.
Brown is still awaiting trial for the murder of Tevlin.
“The trial date for the murder case has not been determined yet,” Carter said. “There are a series of pretrial issues that must be addressed.”
In addition to the Tevlin murder, Brown is also accused of killing three men in Seattle in the weeks before the West Orange shooting. If tried in Washington state, he could face the death penalty — unlike in New Jersey, which abolished capital punishment in 2007 — though Carter has said he will first face the charges in the Tevlin case.