The first of five men to be tried in the 2010 fatal beating of Divyendu Sinha was convicted of lesser charges but was found not guilty of murder.
As the verdict was read in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick, N.J., on May 7, Alka Sinha, the wife of Divyendu Sinha, broke down in tears and her teenage sons tried to console her, a friend present at the court told Desi Talk. She is distraught over the verdict, Gaurang Vaishnav added.
About 20 community members were present with the Sinha family when the verdict was read, Vaishnav said. They occupied the first two rows as they have done over the last several weeks.
Steven Contreras, 20, who was described as the “master of ceremonies” by prosecutors was found guilty of conspiracy, aggravated assault and hindering the apprehension of the others. Prosecutors said he drove his four friends around June 25 night in Old Bridge, N.J., when they attacked the Sinha family, punching and kicking Divyendu Sinha and attacking his teen sons.
In fact, in his video-taped deposition to investigators, played in court during the trial in the last week of April, Contreras admitted to driving Julian Daley, Cash Johnson, Christopher Conway and Christian Tinli to the spot just yards away from the Sinha home on Fela Drive in Old Bridge, where the family was taking an after-dinner stroll. He also told investigators that the four were looking “to f--- up somebody up” that night and spotted the “three dudes and a chick,” referring to the Sinha family.
Contreras’ lawyer Hassan Abdullah argued during the trial that his client had not physically touched any of the victims. But Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Kuberiet argued Contreras knew what the four friends wanted to do and drove them to the fight, thus becoming an accomplice in the beating death.
The jury, which took four days to deliberate, could not reach a consensus on the count of reckless manslaughter, The Star-Ledger reported. Prosecutors have to decide if they will retry Contreras on that count.
“On behalf of the Sinha family we are disappointed that Mr. Contreras was not convicted of murder. He drove around these culprits. However, the jury has spoken and we have full faith in the judicial system,” Vaishnav was quoted as saying in the Star-Ledger.
Contreras was found guilty of six charges – third degree conspiracy to commit aggravated assault; third degree aggravated assault in the attempted beating of another man, Anthony Martino, before the Sinha beating; conspiracy to commit riot in the Sinha case; third degree aggravated assault on older son Aashish Sinha; riot; and hindering apprehension of the other four defendants.
He was found not guilty of murder and aggravated manslaughter, the most serious of all the charges; not guilty of second degree conspiracy to commit aggravated assault in both Sinha and Martino cases; criminal mischief involving damage to Martino’s car; and second degree aggravated assault on Aashish and Ravi Sinha.
The other four defendants face the same charges. A sentencing date has not been set for Contreras because the prosecutor’s office has to decide on whether to retry Contreras on the charge of reckless manslaughter on which the jury could not reach a decision.
Kuberiet is quoted as saying in the Star-Ledger that he would consult with the Sinha family and prosecutor Bruce Kaplan on the matter.
Contreras’ attorney Abdullah is quoted as saying that while the Contreras family was glad with the verdict, “they are not gloating” and that it was possible that down the road, Mrs. Contreras might meet Mrs. Sinha.
“That is an absolutely ridiculous statement. It is like putting salt on the wound,” Vaishnav told Desi Talk.
After the Contreras verdict, Vaishnav and some 15 other Indian-Americans accompanied the Sinha family to their residence. “We stayed there four or five hours to just make sure and support her and the family,” he said.