By Charles Layton
Four defendants in the Monmouth County rock-throwing vandalism case pleaded guilty to criminal mischief on Thursday and agreed to pay a total of $115,096 in restitution to 180 victims in Ocean Grove and elsewhere.
Each defendant also agreed to perform 75 hours of supervised community service.
By affirming their guilt under a negotiated plea agreement, they avoided the possibility of a jury trial and, if convicted, possible imprisonment for up to five years.
The acts of vandalism — the smashing of windows of cars and houses — took place between early November of last year and April 13, when they were caught in the act and arrested by police in Spring Lake.
Prosecutor Kathleen Bycsek said the late-night window-smashing incidents took place in 17 different Monmouth County towns, including Neptune Township. Police have said that 33 of those crimes occurred in Ocean Grove from January through March of this year.
Each defendant stood separately before Judge Thomas Scully in Monmouth County Superior Court and testified to his or her part in the months-long rampage. Philip Williams, 25, of Neptune Township admitted to driving the car while his co-defendants hurled rocks through the windows of houses and parked vehicles.
Tyler Emmons, 18, of Neptune Township and James Turetzkin, 20, of Neptune City testified that they participated in the rock throwing.
Lauren Magaw, 21, of Neptune said under questioning by her attorney that she did not actually throw rocks but agreed that she had accompanied the others, “egged them on” and “helped facilitate” the crimes by handing rocks to the others, and that she was “as culpable” as the others. Turetzkin, however, testified that Magaw threw rocks as well.
The four agreed to be “jointly and severally” liable for the $115,096 in damages. If any of the four prove unable to pay their share, due to death, disappearance or other circumstances, the others would be required to make up the difference.
Insurance companies are to receive $38,234 of the restitution money. The other $76,862 will go directly to victims. Bycsek said the amount of the damages was determined in consultation with the victims “through numerous phone conversations.”
It was unclear over what time period the restitution must be paid.
Judge Scully said the defendants are to remain on probation. As part of the plea agreement they must apply to Pretrial Intervention, a program designed for first-time offenders. If they violate the plea agreement they could still be indicted and tried. However, by complying fully with the conditions of the Pretrial Intervention program and staying out of trouble they will have an opportunity to avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction on their permanent records.
The four defendants are all legal adults, although Emmons was 17 until April 3 of this year and therefore a juvenile during most of the crime spree. In exchange for his pleading guilty as an adult, along with the others, the state dismissed the juvenile complaints against him.
A fifth participant in the crimes was 17 at the time of the arrests. His name has not been released, and he is being treated as a juvenile.
The five were arrested in Spring Lake shortly after midnight on April 13 following reports of broken windows. According to Spring Lake police, all the defendants confessed in video interviews to the entire months-long rash of window-breaking incidents. Police said they recovered a bag filled with large rocks in the defendants’ SUV at the time of their arrest.
Their vandalism began, attorneys said, in early November of last year.