BRIDGETON – A Cumberland County Superior Court judge on Tuesday sentenced a Bridgeton man to serve up to 45 years in state prison for shooting to death a stranger who had given him a ride home.
Jule L. Hannah, 39, of Reeves Road, must serve at least 30 years before being eligible for parole consideration. His first-degree murder conviction falls under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, which requires defendants serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Judge Cristen D’Arrigo declined a state request for life imprisonment based on the circumstances of the crime. The victim was driving when Hannah used a .40-caliber pistol to shoot him once in his head and several times in his body, according to testimony.
More: Judge orders murder trial to go ahead, would be just 2nd trial since March in Cumberland
More: Millville residential developer sues city over denial for community project
“He’s sitting right next to the man allegedly and, at point blank range, he essentially executes him while he’s driving the car,” D’Arrigo said. “Interesting circumstances. Tragic circumstances. But nobody here knows other than Mr. Hannah what transpired there.
“So, it’s very difficult for the court to look only at the circumstances and say, ‘OK. This was heinous,’” the judge said. “Yes. It was horrible. … But there’s simply not enough information for me to reach the conclusion that, amongst murders, this is a 'particularly’ vile, heinous murder.”
Hannah also was sentenced to serve at least five years and possibly up to 10 years for a related firearms possession offense. That lesser term will run at the same time as the sentence for the murder conviction.
Victim Miguel “Chuito” Lopez Jr. was a 53-year-old Vineland resident, a barber, and a father.
The shooting took place on the 400 block of Spruce Street in Bridgeton on Jan. 15, 2017. The vehicle crashed into a tree when its driver was shot and Hannah fled the scene on foot, authorities said.
Authorities said the incident started with Hannah stranded in Monroe Township following a motor vehicle accident. Lopez was in the area and agreed to give Hannah a ride to Bridgeton.
D’Arrigo told the defendant that “deterrence is a primary issue with regard to you.” He cited an adult criminal record that shows Hannah has had seven convictions on indictable offenses and violated probation several times.
“You’ve run afoul of the law plenty throughout your life,” D’Arrigo said.
County Assistant Prosecutor Lesley Snock said Hannah was on probation when he shot Lopez.
Authorities issued an arrest warrant for Hannah on Oct. 11, 2017, and he was arrested later that month. Hannah has been held since then in Cumberland County Jail here. He was indicted in March 2018.
A jury convicted Hannah on July 2 on charges of first-degree homicide, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, and second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose.
The court merged the first two convictions for purposes of sentencing.
Snock and Assistant Prosecutor Holly Fanelle represented the state at the trial.
Attorney Diane Ruberton represented Hannah.
Joe Smith is a N.E. Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago, keeping an eye now on government in South Jersey. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times. Have a tip? Reach out at email@example.com. Help support local journalism with a subscription.
This article originally appeared on Vineland Daily Journal: Bridgeton NJ man gets prison for Vineland NJ man's murder