Irvington man's murder conviction is overturned

NEWARK — Darien Weston was found guilty in the 2007 execution-style killing of a 23-year-old man, but today an appeals court overturned the Irvington man’s conviction.

The appellate judges cited errors made during trial, including the jury's "unfettered access" to videotaped statements from witnesses, saying repeated viewings may have created a prejudice against Weston and violated his right to a fair trial.

The prosecution "repeatedly urged the jury" to watch the videos in the jury room, saying, "Watch it. Watch it again. Watch it again. Rewind it. Fast forward. Go to the back. Go to the front. Look at it," according to today's decision.

The reversal comes after more than six years of legal proceedings that included two trials. Weston, who was 17 at the time of the killing, was tried as an adult.

At his first trial, a jury convicted the now 23-year-old Weston of kidnapping, two weapons offenses, terroristic threats, evidence tampering and hindering his apprehension. However, they deadlocked on the murder charge. At his December 2009 retrial, the jury convicted Weston of murder, carjacking and felony murder but acquitted him of aggravated assault.

Today's decision overturns all convictions and calls for a new trial, the appeals court said.

According to Weston's attorney, the defendant had been accused of the crime by three witnesses — two children and a 21-year-old man who Weston pointed a gun at days earlier.

The video statements were made by two children, identified only as D.C. and Q.M., who were 10 and 12 at the time.

The inconsistencies between statements made by the two children on videotape and what they said at trial were noted in the courtroom, but only the videotapes were allowed in the jury room, the appellate judges said.

The defense had also argued that a no physical evidence linked Weston to the killing of Paul Phillips. Phillips, 23, of Newark, was shot twice in the head July 10, 2007, and found in a dumpster. He had been carjacked on his way home from a Jehovah's Witness church meeting in Montclair and was shot while he had his hands in a praying position, the prosecution said.

Attorneys on both sides could not immediately be reached for comment. A new trial date has not yet been set.

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