Self-defense claim leads to release of Neptune man in Oceanport love-triangle killing
FREEHOLD - Although no one contested a Neptune man fatally shot his lover’s former boyfriend in the chest at point-bank range, a judge on Wednesday ordered the alleged gunman released from jail to await trial in the man’s murder.
Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon said Michael Westbrook, 35, had a plausible argument for self-defense in the Dec. 30 shooting in Oceanport of Amad Jones.
Westbrook’s attorney, Mark Bailey, argued that Jones, 41, formerly of Oceanport, was pummeling Westbrook when Westbrook shot him.
“His purpose was self-defense,’’ Bailey said of his client. “He wanted the pummeling to stop. …He knowingly shot in the direction of a person, but his intent was not to cause death.’’
Joseph Cummings, assistant Monmouth County prosecutor, argued to keep Westbrook detained to await trial. Cummings said Westbrook’s injuries were minimal, and he questioned whether what happened to the defendant amounted to a pummeling.
‘‘If you get punched, you don’t get to shoot someone in the chest and kill them,’’ Cummings argued.
“There’s not a requirement you have to wait until you get your head bashed in,’’ the judge said. “The defendant is not completely off the mark by raising an issue of self-defense.’’
Escandon, however, said there was probable cause to charge Westbrook with murder, although it remained to be seen whether prosecutors can prove that beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The fatal shooting occurred on Gosselin Avenue in the Port Monmouth complex as Westbrook sat with his girlfriend, Tamika Trimble, outside her home after having just gone out to dinner, authorities said.
Jones, Trimble’s ex-boyfriend, pulled up in his car, blocked in Westbrook’s truck and approached Westbrook, according to an affidavit of probable cause to charge Westbrook with Jones’ murder. When Westbrook rolled down his window, Jones asked him, “Why are you here,’’ and began punching him three or four times, the document said.
Trimble then reported hearing a gunshot and watching Jones fall in the street, it said.
Jones died on the scene, authorities said.
Bailey argued the killing wasn’t premeditated, saying Westbrook, who had a permit to possess a gun, had no idea Jones would show up there that night. But Cummings said Jones had been sending text messages to Trimble while she was at dinner with Westbrook, asking her if he could take a shower at her house, which she refused.
Jones previously lived with Trimble during a relationship that was on and off for nine or 10 years before the couple broke up, the assistant prosecutor said.
Just because Jones texted Trimble that night doesn’t mean Trimble told Westbrook about the messages, Bailey argued.
Cummings said a Ring doorbell camera, while it didn’t capture the shooting, did record audio of Trimble saying, “Why the (expletive) did you do that?’’
Bailey said Trimble’s comment could have been directed at Jones when he walked up and started punching Westbrook. He said Cummings’ theory that Westbrook got out of his truck and shot Jones was “speculative’’ and “nonsensical’’ because a shell casing was recovered inside Westbrook’s vehicle.
Cummings argued Westbrook should be detained because he fled the scene after the shooting and discarded or hid the gun in an attempt to obstruct justice.
Bailey argued Westbrook panicked and fled, dropping the gun along the way, and later turned himself in. He said Jones was a violent criminal, while Westbrook has no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket.
“That bespeaks who he is,’’ Bailey said.
In ruling to release Westbrook from jail, Escandon cited the defendant’s lack of a criminal record and noted there were 13 of his relatives in court to show their support.
The judge banned Westbrook from having a firearm and ordered him to report to court staff weekly, maintain employment, refrain from excessive use of alcohol or any use of illegal drugs and to stay out of trouble while he is awaiting trial.
Escandon also ordered Westbrook to appear Feb. 8 before Superior Court Judge Michael Guadagno for a pre-indictment conference.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Neptune NJ: Judge releases man in Oceanport love-triangle killing