FREEHOLD – Although no one disputed that a Neptune man fatally shot his lover’s ex-boyfriend in the chest at point-blank range, a judge on Wednesday ordered the suspected gunman released from jail to await trial in the man’s murder.
Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon said 35-year-old Michael Westbrook had a plausible case to defend himself in the Dec. 30 Oceanport shooting of Amad Jones.
Westbrook’s attorney, Mark Bailey, argued that Jones, 41, formerly of Oceanport, was punching Westbrook when Westbrook shot him.
“Her purpose was self-defense,” Bailey said of her client. “I wanted the beatings to stop. …He knowingly fired in the direction of a person, but his intent was not to cause death.”
Joseph Cummings, Monmouth County Assistant District Attorney, advocated keeping Westbrook in custody pending trial. Cummings said Westbrook’s injuries were minimal and questioned whether what happened to the defendant amounted to a beating.
“If you get punched, you can’t shoot somebody in the chest and kill them,” Cummings argued.
“There is no requirement that you have to wait until you get hit on the head,” the judge said. “The defendant is not entirely out of line in raising a matter of self-defense.”
However, Escandon said there was probable cause to charge Westbrook with murder, though whether prosecutors can prove that beyond a reasonable doubt at trial remains to be seen.
The fatal shooting occurred on Gosselin Avenue in the Port Monmouth compound as Westbrook was sitting with his girlfriend, Tamika Trimble, outside their home after they went out to dinner, authorities said.
Jones, Trimble’s ex-boyfriend, pulled up in his car, blocked Westbrook’s truck and approached Westbrook, according to a probable cause affidavit to charge Westbrook with Jones’ murder. As Westbrook rolled down his window, Jones asked him, “Why are you here?” and began hitting him three or four times, according to the document.
Trimble later reported hearing a shot and seeing Jones fall in the street, he said.
Jones died at the scene, authorities said.
Bailey argued the murder was not premeditated and said Westbrook, who had a permit to possess a gun, had no idea Jones would be there that night. But Cummings said Jones had been texting Trimble while she was having dinner with Westbrook, asking if she could take a shower at her house, which she refused.
Jones previously lived with Trimble in an on-and-off relationship for nine or 10 years before the couple separated, the assistant prosecutor said.
The fact that Jones sent Trimble a text message that night does not mean that Trimble told Westbrook about the messages, Bailey argued.
Cummings said a Ring Doorbell camera, while not capturing the shooting, did record audio of Trimble saying, “Why (expletive) did you do that?”
Bailey said Trimble’s comment may have been directed at Jones as he walked up and began punching Westbrook. He said Cummings’ theory that Westbrook got out of his truck and shot Jones was “speculative” and “nonsensical” because a casing was recovered inside Westbrook’s vehicle.
Cummings argued that Westbrook should be detained because he fled the scene after the shooting and discarded or concealed the weapon in an attempt to obstruct justice.
Bailey argued that Westbrook panicked and fled, dropping his gun on the way and then turning himself in. He said Jones was a violent criminal, while Westbrook has no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket.
“That speaks to who he is,” Bailey said.
In deciding to release Westbrook from jail, Escandon cited the defendant’s lack of a criminal record and noted that there were 13 of his family members in court to show their support.
The judge prohibited Westbrook from owning a firearm and ordered him to report weekly to court staff, keep his job, refrain from excessive alcohol consumption or any use of illegal drugs and stay out of trouble while awaiting trial.
Escandon also ordered Westbrook to appear before Superior Court Judge Michael Guadagno on February 8 for a pre-arraignment conference.
A reporter in New Jersey since 1985, Kathleen Hopkins covers crimes, court cases, legal issues and nearly every major murder trial in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Neptune NJ: Judge Frees Man in Oceanport Love Triangle Murder