TOMS RIVER, N.J. — Jahmell Crockam took a look around the courthouse, couldn't find his lawyer, then went home.
He went to a friend's home in Lakewood, where he had a conversation with that friend's mother, Tanya Cook Peteete, about what had happened. She told him he had better get back there before they issued a warrant for his arrest on a failure to appear charge.
"He said he wasn't going back to the court," Cook Peteete said Monday. "He just said he's not going back to jail. If he's going to jail, it's going to be for killing a cop."
It was December 2010, a month before prosecutors say Crockam opened fire on a Lakewood police officer, fatally shooting him behind the wheel of his cruiser as the officer drove up alongside him on a snow-covered road Jan. 14, 2011.
Cook Peteete testified Monday in Crockam's murder trial, saying she knew Crockam more commonly by his street name, "Sav" — which prosecutors say is short for "Savage."
"He said he wasn't going to jail," she testified. "If he's going to jail, he's not going for nothing petty. He's gonna kill a cop. It's going to be for killing a cop."
Crockam's lawyer, Mark Fury, maintains police arrested the wrong man, and that there are no reliable witness identifications of Crockam as the shooter. Two Lakewood residents of the street on which the shooting occurred testified last week that Crockam is the man they saw pull a gun out of his pants pocket and blast the officer in the neck, face and temple.
Cook Peteete did not specify in court what charge Crockam went to court for in December 2010. But that was the same month that authorities charged him with possessing an illegal rifle and hollow-point bullets.
He is charged with murder and weapons offenses in the death of 27-year-old Patrolman Christopher Matlosz, who was working his first evening shift after transferring from the overnight shift.
Cook Peteete also testified that on the day Matlosz was killed, she got a call from a Lakewood police detective asking if she knew where Crockam was. She said she didn't, but then called a woman at whose house she thought Crockam might be, Daniela Hernandez.
"The police are looking for Sav," Cook Peteete testified she told Hernandez.
Under questioning from prosecutors, Cook Peteete testified she told Hernandez that police were looking for Crockam in connection with an outstanding arrest warrant. The issue of whether Crockam knew there were active warrants for his arrest at the time the officer drove up to him is a crucial one in the case. Prosecutors say the knowledge that police were about to arrest him on one or more warrants provided Crockam's motivation to shoot the officer to death.
Cook Peteete vacillated between saying Crockam knew and didn't know that there were warrants for his arrest, giving differing answers to prosecutors and to Fury.
She also testified her son called her in an excited state, saying Crockam had gotten himself into trouble and that he and some friends needed to go pick him up. Prosecutors have said Crockam got friends to drive him from Lakewood across the state to a hideout in Camden, where he was arrested less than two days later.
Prosecutors also heard testimony from a 17-year-old friend of Crockam, who was 19 at the time of the killing. Superior Court Judge Wendel Daniels issued an order forbidding publication of the names of juvenile witnesses in the case, only allowing them to be referred to by initials. J.P. testified that he had just gotten home from school around 3:30 p.m. when he went to Hernandez's apartment with a friend. Crockam arrived within 10 to 15 minutes, he testified.
Hernandez got a call on her cell phone; he said he recognized the voice as Cook Peteete. Hernandez went upstairs, then quickly came down holding something wrapped in a T-shirt. It appeared to be a "cowboy gun," he testified, describing the circular chamber of a revolver.
Crockam took it, put it in his pants and left the apartment.
Within 15 to 20 minutes, police were swarming the area, ordering J.P. to get on the ground and not say a word.
Cook Peteete is facing possession of a handgun and possession of stolen property charges from cases unrelated to the officer's death, and could get 15 years in prison if convicted. She said no one promised her any help with those charges in return for her testimony.
Under cross-examination, she testified that Crockam had boasted repeatedly that he wouldn't go to jail unless it was for killing a cop.
"He said it a couple of times," she said. "I just brushed it off."
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