Legal experts in New Jersey say that felony murder crimes that are prosecuted by the federal government can include the death penalty, but in the end, such decisions are made by the US Attorney General.
Federal and state officials said last week that there has been no decision made at this time as to when, how or where the suspects are going to be prosecuted. For now, all have been charged under New Jersey state law.
The four suspects in this case are named Karif Ford, Basim Henry, Kevin Roberts and Hanif Thompson, all from Newark or Irvington NJ. All of them are being held on $2 million bail each in Essex County Correctional Facility.
All of the men were charged with murder and felony murder carjacking conspiracy in the state of New Jersey. All of them are facing life in prison on the state charges.
However, federal law allows carjackers to be prosecuted under interstate commerce law. If the vehicles that were stolen were made outside NJ and were operated by the thieves on state roads. Under the law and these circumstances, it appears these individuals can be charged with federal crimes. Prosecutors only need to show that the intent of the assailants was to cause death or serious injury.
The US Congress passed its anti-car theft act, which opened the door to federal charges being levied in this case, back in 1990. This was after several carjackings in the DC area. One of those cases involved a woman from Maryland who was forced from her car and then dragged to death as she was trying to get her young daughter from the car.
No one has yet been prosecuted for carjacking as a case of federal capital murder. But the penalties under US federal law for taking a car at gunpoint can be a lot worse than under state law. In this mall case, the murder of one of the victims means that there could be a life in prison conviction under NJ law.
Police worked for several days in late December to find out who murdered Dustin Friedland, a 30 year old lawyer who was getting into his SUV at the mall with his wife in Millburn when they were assaulted.
Friedland was shot as he was trying to defend his wife. It was reported that he would not give up the keys of the vehicle because he wanted to save his wife from harm. The suspects got away in the SUV, which was found abandoned in Newark the next day, which is about 10 miles from the mall.
His wife was not hurt in the attack. Friedland had recently earned his law degree from Syracuse University and he was also a project manager at his family’s business in air conditioning and heating.