Friday, August 3, 2018




Appellate court rejects killer’s appeal in Halloween party double murder

GOSHEN – Nija Johnson, the former Newburgh man who shot up a Halloween party in Newburgh on October 30, 2016, killing two young women and wounding five other people, lost the appeal to his conviction.

Johnson pled guilty in Orange County Court to two counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder for killing Tabitha Cruz, 20, and Omani Free, 18, both of Newburgh, and to five counts of attempted murder for wounding the others.

During the trial before Judge Craig Stephen Brown, Johnson, who was 18 at the time, waived his right to appeal, but in his appeal, he claimed the court improperly suggested the appeal waiver was mandatory rather than a right he was asked to voluntarily relinquish.

In a decision dated August 1, 2018, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled Johnson’s waiver of appeal was made voluntarily.

He had also challenged the county court’s failure to order that he be examined for possible mental disease defect prior to being sentenced, but the appellate court ruled “county court providently exercised its discretion in declining... an examination… prior to imposition of the sentenced.”

The appeals court wrote that while the presentencing report indicated Johnson had past psychiatric care and treatment, there was no basis to support the conclusion that he lacked the capacity to understand the proceedings and consequences of his plea.

“The transcript of the plea proceedings shows that the defendant answered all of the court’s questions appropriately, allocuted to the crimes, and acknowledged that he understood what he was doing and that he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty.”


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