TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — On the day a 20-year-old was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing a New Jersey police officer, the slain patrolman's mother yearned for the kind of Old Testament justice New Jersey courts can no longer provide: an eye for an eye.
"He should get the same treatment he gave Christopher," said Jane Calaio, whose son, Lakewood Patrolman Christopher Matlosz, was shot to death behind the wheel of his police cruiser on Jan. 14, 2011.
Matlosz had pulled up on a snow-covered street alongside Jahmell Crockam, who was 19 at the time and who had two outstanding arrest warrants for weapons charges. Crockam, who had previously vowed to friends he would kill a police officer rather than go to prison, pulled a handgun out of his saggy pants and opened fire on the unsuspecting officer, shooting him three times in the face and upper body.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Wendel Daniels sentenced Crockam to prison for life without the possibility of parole. It was a sentence mandated by the law because the jury had found Crockam killed Matlosz due to his status as a police officer performing his official duties. The judge also tacked an extra seven years for a weapons offense onto Crockam's life sentence.
"Jahmell Crockam has forfeited his right forever for living a life without incarceration," the judge said.
New Jersey declared a moratorium on death penalty cases in 2006, and repealed its capital punishment law the following year. Chief Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor William Heisler said his office would have sought the death penalty against Crockam "without any reservation" had the law still been in effect.
Anthony Wieners, president of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association, called the sentence appropriate under the current law, but said it falls woefully short of the crime.
"There is no place in this world for someone who would walk up to a police officer in broad daylight and execute him," Wieners said. "This convict has used his 20 years on this planet to cause misery and harm to others, and he doesn't deserve one more minute here. He will rest with a roof over his head and three square meals a day, while Officer Chris Matlosz's friends and family rest with only memories of a hero officer. "
Wieners added the successful prosecution sends a message to anyone thinking of harming a police officer.
"No one guns down one of us without all of us coming for them," he said.
Wearing green and white-striped jail clothing, Crockam sat in the box of the jury that convicted him of murder and weapons offenses last month. He did not speak except to answer "yes" eight times to a series of procedural questions by the judge, asking if he understood his post-conviction rights.
Crockam declined the chance to speak to the court before he was sentenced, but looked intently at the dead officer's mother, brother and fiancée as they told the judge how much pain the murder has caused them.
"I still can't believe I'm here today," said Kelly Walsifer, who was to marry Matlosz next month. "I still have to make an appointment for my last dress fitting. My sister is planning an awesome bachelorette party. That's what I should be talking about — our wedding. I cringe when I think about it. The defendant stole that from us."
Walsifer said she sleeps with one of Matlosz's T-shirts each night, trying to hold on to some remnant of his presence.
"I think I almost can still smell him," she said. "I cry myself to sleep almost every night, asking why. But I can't anymore. There is no 'why' in life.
"Mr. Crockam was luckier," she continued. "He's luckier than Chris. He had the opportunity to be tried by 12. Chris never had that opportunity. He had to be carried by eight."
Outside courthouse afterward, Walsifer said she felt Crockam looking at her, and said she defiantly returned his stare. Looking into his eyes, Walsifer said she saw nothing but "a cold-blooded killer. I hope he has a fun time in jail."
Calaio, too, said she took the opportunity to look into Crockam's eyes in the courtroom.
"There was no soul in there," she said.
Heisler revealed that Crockam's juvenile record included slashing a fellow Lakewood student with a box cutter, and punching a police officer in the face.
Crockam's lawyer, Mark Fury, argued during the trial that police arrested the wrong man. He elected not to present a defense of Crockam, contending that there was no reliable evidence or witness identification of Crockam as the shooter. Fury extended his condolences to Matlosz's family on Thursday.
During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence including testimony from two residents of the street where the killing took place who identified Crockam as the man they saw blast the officer three times with a gun.
A massive manhunt involving more than 100 officers from numerous law enforcement agencies arrested Crockam two days later. He was hiding in the apartment of a friend in Camden.
Several acquaintances of Crockam, including people who drove him to Camden after the shooting, testified that Crockam admitted killing the officer. Several inmates who were at the Ocean County Jail at the same time Crockam was arrested also were called to testify that Crockam boasted to them that he had killed the police officer.
The mother of one of Crockam's friends testified that Crockam told her a month before Matlosz was shot that he would kill a police officer rather than go to prison.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC