Short Hills Mall Carjacking Suspects Arraigned

By David Cruz

The four suspects appeared one after the other before Superior Court Judge Peter J. Vazquez, each facing murder, conspiracy and other charges in the carjacking and murder of Hoboken lawyer Dustin Friedland inside a parking garage at the Short Hills Mall last month.

Prosecutors refused to name the alleged shooter today and wouldn’t speculate about a motive. Essex County Chief Asst. Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly recounted the final moments of Friedland’s life at a press conference after the arraignment today.

“He walked around to go to the driver’s side of the car,” he said. “He was confronted by some of the defendants. A struggle ensued we believe. He was subsequently shot. The wife then got out of the car and the Range Rover left.”

The case has drawn attention to a carjacking epidemic in Essex County, where for the past three years, carjacking numbers have gone up, culminating in a record 450 this year. That’s a 62 percent jump. Newark Police Director Sam DeMaio acknowledged the crisis this week.

“You can’t go into a car with a screwdriver and a dent puller and steal it any more,” he said at a press conference in Newark on Tuesday. “The only way to take it is to physically take it, and there’s an underlying problem with the vehicles too and that’s where these high-end vehicles are being taken. They’re being taken and there’s an investigation in progress, where these vehicles are being taken and shipped overseas. Newark’s proximity to Port Newark makes it a haven for it. It makes it that much easier to get the cars to the port.”

The Range Rover in this case was found abandoned in Newark and the suspects were all adults, making it unique among the year’s carjacking incidents. The violence is also rare. Most victims do as authorities recommend — just give the cars up. But Essex County is part of a multi-agency carjacking task force, which has come under some scrutiny for its single-digit conviction rate. We asked Sheriff Armando Fontoura about that today.

“I’m not going to discuss the prosecution; I’ll leave that to the prosecutor. They’ll take care of that,” he said. “Clearly, a successful prosecution is what we’re hoping for, but I’m sure it’ll work itself out. Talk to the prosecutor about that.”

All four suspects pleaded not guilty today. The case will now go to a grand jury, which the judge said would happen in the next few months.

You don’t ordinarily see so-called perp walks here in Jersey, but the sheriff’s office made sure we we were able to get shots of these suspects taken from court today, a clear sign that this case will be high priority as officials try to send a message to the public and any would-be carjackers that they will face justice.