After three young teenagers from Jersey City were implicated in the death of a 46-year-old homeless man in Hoboken a year ago, two of them are serving probation and a third is serving six years in juvenile prison for murder, said Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Gene Rubino last week.
The case made national news on Sept. 10, 2013 when a man was found dead, lying against a fence on Third Street before 5 p.m. Law enforcement officials were able to get surveillance videotape that indicated that the man fell onto the fence after a punch to the head. Officials also released tape of three suspects entering the Second Street light rail station a few blocks away and heading back to Jersey City.
The incident was believed by detectives to be one of several instances of kids playing the “knockout game” in which they try to topple a random stranger with one punch.
The 14-year-old boy is serving six years in juvenile prison in Jamesburg.
Two other Jersey City 13-year-olds involved in the incident pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received probation, which they are currently serving. They are not incarcerated.
According to Rubino, the names, schools, addresses, and other identifying information about the individuals could not be released. New Jersey has strict laws guaranteeing the confidentiality of juvenile court records.
Santiago was found with his head lodged in between two iron fence posts on Third Street between Jefferson and Adams Streets. Rubino told NJ.com last year that Santiago’s neck was broken.
According to a HCPO press release, the three juveniles in question followed Santiago as he walked along Third Street.
Tracy Squillini, Santiago’s ex-wife, told NJ.com last year that he had been the victim of another brutal assault in New York City 27 years earlier, which left Santiago brain damaged and for a time “unable to bathe or dress himself.” Santiago’s last known address was on Garden Street in Hoboken. It was believed that he was homeless at the time of his death. Sources told the media that he and his mother had sometimes eaten meals at a Hoboken homeless shelter.
After still images of the juveniles taken from security camera footage were disseminated by the HCPO, two of the juveniles surrendered to homicide detectives on Sept. 19, 2013. The third juvenile surrendered the next day. According to the HCPO press release sent out after their arrests, the three were “charged with murder and...remanded to the Hudson County Youth Detention Center.”
Three guilty pleas
In New Jersey, murder is defined as purposely or knowingly causing death or serious bodily injury resulting in death.
If the 14-year-old boy had been tried as an adult in Hudson County criminal court and convicted of murder, statute dictates that he receive a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Another of the boys involved in the incident, a 13-year-old, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault on Nov. 12, 2013. He was sentenced to a year and a half of probation with conditions on Dec. 11, 2013.
The third juvenile, another 13-year-old, pled guilty to obstructing administration of law or other governmental function on Jan. 9, 2014. He was sentenced to a year of probation on Jan. 16.
The fourth degree indictable offense refers to an act of flight, intimidation, force, violence, physical interference or obstacle, and/or an unlawful act that obstructed or attempted to obstruct a governmental function.
Rubino did not specify the conditions of the juveniles’ probation besides a requirement of community service.
The New Jersey Courts website describes juvenile probation as a “dispositional alternative” that gives “juvenile offenders the opportunity to remain in their own community under supervision by a probation officer who monitors their compliance with the rules and conditions imposed by the Family Court Judge.” These conditions “may include completing treatment, paying restitution and fines, and achieving educational goals.”
Trend in knockout attacks?
The case of Ralph Santiago is not the only recent instance of an alleged “knockout game” assault in Hudson County. In February, a Manhattan man said in a police report that he believed he was the victim of a knockout game attack while walking to the PATH station along Sinatra Drive in the early morning of Sunday, Feb. 9. After leaving a bar, the man reported, he was struck in the head by an African-American man he had exchanged no prior words with. The victim said he asked the attacker why he had struck him, and the attacker’s only response was “What are you going to do about it?”
Another knockout-esque attack allegedly took place in Jersey City in December of last year. A 48-year-old Jersey City man told police he was taunted and then attacked by a group of teenage boys while walking on Montgomery Street at around 7 p.m. on Dec. 2, according to NJ.com. The man said he was “jumped on and knocked to the ground” from behind, NJ.com reported. According to reports, the victim was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the attack.
Public officials in Hudson County insist that these instances are all isolated events, and that knockout-style attacks are not common.
After a rash of news stories on these incidents last year, the New York Times countered with a story last November claiming the trend was overblown in the media.
At the time, Rubino told the Times, “We keep getting asked that question...and there is no noticeable trend.”
The killing of Santiago was the only murder reported in Hoboken in the last two years.
Carlo Davis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.