Newark, NJ – A man who was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer will receive a new trial, a New Jersey appeals court ruled on Thursday.
Rasul McNeil-Thomas was sentenced to 60 years in prison on Apr. 24, 2015, for having murdered Newark Police Department (NPD) Officer William Johnson during a drive-by shooting outside a Texas Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant in May of 2011, NJ.com reported.
Officer Johnson was not the intended target, and several other individuals were injured during the gunfire, the Associated Press reported.
McNeil-Thomas was convicted of aggravated manslaughter, carjacking, and numerous other offenses, NJ.com reported.
In the Thursday ruling, the appeals court determined that prosecutors should not have been permitted to show jurors video clips as part of their closing arguments, because the footage had not been placed into evidence earlier, the Associated Press reported.
The videos in question were from several surveillance cameras that recorded the drive-by shooting as it occurred.
McNeil-Thomas’ attorneys argued that by allowing prosecutors to show the clips during their closing argument, defense was not provided with the opportunity to dispute the footage.
They asked the judge to declare a mistrial.
In response, prosecutors pointed out that the clips were part of a longer video, and that the entire video had, in fact, been admitted into evidence.
The trial judge denied defense’s request for a mistrial, and McNeil Thomas was subsequently convicted and sentenced.
In their order for a new trial, however, the appeal judges wrote, “As defense counsel argued when moving for a mistrial, by waiting until summation to show the jury for the first time video about which there was no testimony, the prosecutor effectively denied defendant any opportunity to challenge the State’s evidence or produce his own witnesses to rebut the claim.”
Officer Johnson was a 16-year veteran of the NPD when he was gunned down by McNeil-Thomas, NJ.com reported.
During the trial, prosecutors said that McNeil-Thomas stole a vehicle before he opened fire on the restaurant with the intention of shooting a woman who had been involved in an earlier altercation at his residence.
In addition to murdering Officer Johnson, McNeil-Thomas also shot a couple who were in the restaurant with their baby.
The man and woman both survived.
Officer Johnson was “left rolling in his own blood, attempting to call 911 and begging strangers to help him” as he died, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Magdalen Czykier said during the trial.
An Essex County prosecutor’s office spokesman said the office was reviewing the appeal court’s decision, the Associated Press reported.