FREEHOLD – A Monmouth County grand jury has returned an 8-count indictment charging three men with the fatal shooting of a 27-year-old Ocean County man in Asbury Park on Thanksgiving Eve 2017, announced Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
Vernon Sanders, 34, of Brick Township, Steven J. Taylor, 36, and Avery Hopes, 23, both of Asbury Park, are named in the indictment charging each of them with first degree Conspiracy to Commit Murder, first degree Murder and second degree Possession of a Firearm for an Unlawful Purpose. Additionally, Sanders and Hopes are charged with second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon. Taylor faces a charge of first degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon. Sanders and Taylor are additionally charged with second degree Certain Persons Not to Possess Weapons.
The charges stem from a shooting that occurred on November 22, 2017, in the area of 150 Prospect Avenue in Asbury Park. The Asbury Park Police Department responded to the area of 150 Prospect Avenue in Asbury Park after hearing the sound of gunshots at approximately 10:32 p.m. Officers quickly arrived and located the victim, Denzel Morgan-Hicks, 27, of Barnegat, in the driver’s side front seat of a 2017 Ford Expedition, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Asbury Park Fire Department Emergency Medical Services and MONOC paramedics also responded, but the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
A joint investigation by detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Asbury Park Police Department identified Sanders, Taylor and Hopes as the individuals responsible for Morgan-Hicks’ death.
If convicted of Murder, the three men face a minimum sentence of 30 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole, and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. If convicted of Conspiracy, they face a sentence of up to 20 years in state prison. A conviction for either Murder or Conspiracy is subject to the provisions of the "No Early Release Act" requiring each of the men to serve 85 percent of any sentence imposed in excess of 30 years before becoming eligible for release on parole. They would also be under parole supervision for five years, if released from state prison.
If convicted of Possession of a Firearm for an Unlawful Purpose, the maximum potential sentence is a state prison term of 10 years, and pursuant to the “Graves Act” there is a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of one half of the custodial sentence imposed, or 42 months, whichever is greater. If convicted of Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, Taylor faces up to 20 years in a state prison, which is also subject to the Graves Act mandatory period of parole ineligibility of one half of the custodial sentence imposed, while Sanders and Hopes each faces a state prison term of 10 years if convicted of that offense.
If convicted of Certain Persons Not to Possess Weapons, Sanders and Taylor each face up to 10 years in state prison with a five-year mandatory period of parole ineligibility.
The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Bogner.
Sanders is represented by Emeka Nkwuo, Esq., of Freehold; Taylor is represented by Carlos Diaz-Cobo Esq., of New Brunswick; and Hopes is represented by Glenn Kassman Esq., of Point Pleasant Beach.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.