In the end, it came down to the accused killer’s word against that of his former co-defendant.
Alrashim Chambers was charged with fatally shooting a transgender woman in Maplewood after discovering her sexual identity. His one-time accomplice, who has since taken a plea deal, pointed the finger at Chambers. But Chambers pointed it right back.
An Essex County jury made its decision today when it acquitted Chambers on all counts in the Sept. 12, 2010, slaying of 28-year-old Victoria Carmen White.
The jury found Chambers, of Newark, not guilty of murder, bias intimidation and two weapons offenses. Chambers, 25, who maintained his innocence from the beginning and took the stand in his own defense, had faced up to life in prison if convicted of murder.
Chambers was charged with shooting White three times in her cousin’s studio apartment in the early morning hours, infuriated after suspecting she had been a man, prosecutors said. White, whom Chambers had met at an Irvington nightclub earlier that evening, was a lingerie model who had sex reassignment surgery a decade earlier in Thailand and had legally changed her name from James White.
The jury in Superior Court in Newark announced its verdict at 11 a.m., after more than five hours of deliberations over two days.
“It’s a huge load off his shoulders,” Chambers’ attorney, Bukie Adetula, said after the verdict. “All he said to me was: ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’”
About two-dozen of Chambers’ relatives, including his mother and father, were in court to hear the verdict, as they had been for most of the two-week trial.
“There were a lot of hugs and kisses and tears of joy,” Adetula said.
Victoria Carmen White was fatally shot in 2010.
The case was a difficult one for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, because the only witness was Chambers’ co-defendant, Marquise Foster, who testified at trial. Foster, who was also charged with murder, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for his testimony against Chambers.
Foster, 26, said Chambers had been hugging and kissing White that evening, but became enraged when he suspected she was a man.
“You a dude?” Foster claimed Chambers shouted at White. Three gunshots followed seconds later, he said. The .22-caliber handgun allegedly used in the killing was never recovered. The bias intimidation count did not play a major role in the trial, though Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Eileen O’Connor, who handled the case, told the jury White’s sexual identity was the sole reason she was killed.
Chambers, who took the stand Wednesday as the only witness for the defense, denied having anything to do with the killing, and essentially painted Foster as the gunman. Chambers claimed he had stepped out of the Maplewood apartment to retrieve marijuana from his car when he heard the gunshots.
At that point, he testified, he was caught in the building vestibule, unable to re-enter because the heavy entrance door was locked. He said Foster came running out a short time later, but never told him what had happened.
Two women who were in the bathroom at the time of the killing — including White’s cousin — also testified that they heard someone yell, “You a dude?” then heard three gunshots. Because the bathroom door was closed, neither woman saw who fired the shots, or who made the statement.
On the witness stand, Chambers said he didn’t even know White had been killed — or that she [was trans]
had been a man — until nearly two months later, when a news report about the shooting described him and Foster as suspects. Both men surrendered a short time later.
Several of the victim’s family members were also in the courtroom today for the verdict, including both of White’s grandmothers.
“Obviously, we and the victim’s family are very disappointed in the verdict,” said O’Connor, who spoke with White’s relatives after the verdict. “But we put forth all the evidence in the case and did the best we could under the circumstances.”
(By Alexi Friedman, The Star-Ledger)