Earl Huff could hardly contain his anger in court. To his right was the man who had pleaded guilty to being part of a gang that had killed his niece. To his left was the prosecutor who had agreed to a plea deal that would spare the defendant a possible life term.
Huff said he had to resist the urge to put his hands on the murder defendant. But he also took aim on Friday at Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Mary Alison Albright. “You let us down,” he said, turning to her. “You made that deal. You hurt us.”
In an emotional sentencing in Camden, Superior Court Judge Irvin Snyder upheld what in effect will be a 30-year term for Kuasheim “Presto” Powell, 25, in the torture killings of Muriah Huff, 18, a high school senior from Cinnaminson, and her boyfriend, Michael “Doc-Money” Hawkins, 23, in a Camden rowhouse on Feb. 22, 2010.
Members of Huff’s family choked back tears as they urged Snyder to reject the deal. But they left the courtroom disappointed.
“We have no faith in the system,” Earl Huff, 53, said outside the courtroom. “It wasn’t enough time.”
Minutes earlier, Snyder agonized over the sentence, calling it “the toughest decision” he has had to make.
In a perfect world, Powell could have received life in prison if convicted by a jury in a trial, but that would be in a jury’s hands, Albright said after the sentence, and the outcome would be uncertain.
“By negotiating, we can guarantee a favorable outcome,” she said in an interview.
Like Snyder, Albright said the justice system can be imperfect.
Early in their discussions, Albright had offered a deal for 50 years, said Powell’s attorney, Richard Sparaco.
On Aug. 23, the day of the earthquake that shook the area, Sparaco countered with an offer of 30 years – the least his client, who confessed to killing Hawkins, would have received if convicted, he said.
Albright then insisted on a guilty plea from Powell on each of four charges, Sparaco said – two murder charges and two attempted-murder charges from an unrelated incident the day before in Pennsauken.
The courthouse was evacuated during the earthquake, and Sparaco said the deal was finalized outside the building.
Powell then pleaded guilty to the murders and attempted murders.
Under the plea, Powell received a 30-year sentence on each murder count with no parole, and a 20-year sentence for each attempted-murder charge. The sentences are to run concurrently.
Thirty years is the minimum sentence for murder convictions in New Jersey, Sparaco said.
He said Powell would get credit for 19 months already served. Powell will be in his 50s when he is released. His three children will be in their 30s.
Hawkins, member of a Crips gang set, was beaten, shot, and fatally stabbed in an upstairs bedroom after a gang-related dispute between Hawkins and others, who belonged to a rival set of Bloods led by Powell.
Downstairs, Muriah Huff was pistol-whipped, hit repeatedly with a chair, stabbed, and suffocated with a plastic bag and rope.
“You tortured her for hours before she took her last breath,” her cousin Camille Williams, 35, said in court.
Ten people were charged in the two killings. Five have entered guilty pleas, and four, including Powell, have been sentenced.
One, David Hardwick, 19, of Pennsauken, was sentenced Friday to 30 years for his guilty plea to counts of aggravated manslaughter.
Hardwick gave Powell the gun that Powell used to shoot Hawkins several times as the victim begged for his life.
Shatara Carter, 15, last year began serving a 20-year sentence for aggravated manslaughter.