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The right question in Newark killings: Is he a psychopath?

Three college students were brutally murdered, and a fourth left for dead, in Newark, New Jersey on August 4. The three students were forced to kneel in front of a brick wall in a school playground, then shot, execution-style, in the back of the head.

The three young victims, Terrance Aeriel, 18; Iofemi Hightower, 20; and Dashon Harvey, 20; as well as the lone survivor, Natasha Aeriel, 19; were universally described as “good kids.” None had police records. Terrance Aeriel was an ordained minister.

New Jersey news commentator Steve Adubato wrote about Terrance in his column today. Adubato personally knew the young man. Adubato is a mentor in a program called “Stand and Deliver: Communication Tools for Tomorrow’s Leaders,” and Terrance was a participant. The program helps Newark youths with leadership, communication and life skills.

Every year, the top 10 youths in the program deliver presentations in a “Night of Eloquence” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center—the same venue that hosts superstar rock bands and philharmonic orchestras. In 2005, Terrance Aeriel was one of the 10. He delivered a sermon called “The Grace of God” that brought down the house.

Illegal immigrant accused

Terrance Aeriel and his friends were executed in cold blood. One of the men accused in the murders is Jose Carranza.

Carranza, 28, is a Peruvian national who was in the United States illegally. When he allegedly committed the murder, he was out of jail on bail for raping a 5-year-old girl. He had also been arrested on assault charges stemming from a bar fight.

Carranza’s immigration status has inflamed the national controversy about illegal aliens. According to The Record in northern New Jersey, Newark City Councilman Ron C. Rice called for a resolution requiring city police to contact immigration agents when a felony suspect may be an illegal immigrant. Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello wants his town’s police force to be deputized as immigration agents.

Although Carranza’s immigration status is a thorny issue, here’s the question that should have been asked in this case: Is Jose Carranza a psychopath?

Arrest record

Carranza was arrested three times in the past year.

The first time was last October, when he and two others allegedly used bottles and chairs to assault four victims in the bar fight. Carranza faced nine charges in that case.

Then he was arrested in January, 2007, in the child-rape case. He was re-arrested in May in the same case and faced a 31-count indictment. Carranza was accused of aggravated sexual assault of a child, endangering the welfare of a child he had a duty to supervise, and threatening the girl and her parents. The abuse allegedly began in 2003, when the girl was 5, and continued to this year.

In addition, neighbors said Carranza was also an active member of the MS-13 street gang, which has roots in Central America and is considered one of the country’s most violent gangs.

So did anyone do any kind of psychological profile on Carranza? We don’t know.

But given his record of violence and abuse, and the showy way in which he turned himself in—Carranza wanted to surrender directly to the mayor of Newark—there’s probably a good chance that the guy is a psychopath.

Bail reduced

Apparently that would be news to New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena.

When Carranza was first arrested in the child-rape case in January, Judge John Kennedy set bail at $150,000, which Carranza posted through a bail bond. In February, Newark police filed new sexual assault charges in the same case, and Judge Michael Ravin set bail at $300,000. When Carranza was arrested on May 3, he faced $450,000 in bail charges, $150,000 of which was already posted.

On May 17, Judge Thomas Vena decided to cut the $300,000 bail in half and combine it with the existing $150,000 bail. The result: Carranza got out of jail free.

Vena was on vacation on May 17, but stopped into his office to sign the bail reduction order in chambers, without the prosecution or defense present. He let a man with serious indictments for the violent assault of adults and the sexual abuse of a child back on the streets.

The blame game about Carranza’s release is currently in full swing. A retired judge has been named to conduct an investigation.

Screen for psychopaths

The problem, in Lovefraud’s view, is that many people in positions of legal authority, who are making these life-and-death decisions, simply don’t understand psychopaths.

We would like to see all members of the legal system—police, lawyers, judges, parole officers, prison guards—undergo mandatory training about psychopaths. The key symptoms should be drummed into their heads. They should also learn these basic facts:

  1. Psychopaths do not play by the rules.
  2. Psychopaths have no fear of punishment.
  3. A psychopath on the loose is likely to reoffend.

Identifying a potential psychopath may not be that difficult. Dr. Robert Hare has developed a tool called the P-SCAN. It’s not a clinical diagnosis, but a rough screen designed to be used in law enforcement situations and provide an initial warning that someone may be a psychopath. The inventory is a 90-item checklist and takes 15 minutes to complete.

Many people in New Jersey’s legal establishment had contact with Jose Carranza. Perhaps if one of them had considered the possibility that the guy might be a psychopath, he would have been kept in jail. Then three young people with bright, shiny futures would still be alive today.

Wake-up call

Maybe this entire tragedy will serve as a wake-up call. On Friday, another Newark man, Arthur Tiggs, was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Tiggs was convicted of killing another man after telling friends that he felt like shooting someone on his birthday. He was sentenced by Judge Thomas Vena.

“The frivolity and heinousness of your act are clear indications of your willingness to act similarly in the future,” Judge Vena said to Tiggs. Tiggs broke into tears during the hearing.

Let’s see—Tiggs kills someone for the fun of it and then starts crying when he is held accountable. Those are two signals that might indicate he is a psychopath. At least this guy will be locked up for a long time. Perhaps it’s a start.



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