PATERSON, N.J. (AP) — A teen charged in the deadly shooting of a 12-year-old girl who was hit by a stray bullet while riding a scooter in New Jersey pleaded not guilty Friday, while the girl's family prepared for her funeral.
Jhymiere Moore, 19, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and weapons charges in the death of Genesis Rincon in Paterson.
Moore's lawyer, Harley Breite, told reporters after the hearing that Moore was not involved in the shooting but turned himself in Tuesday because he heard through people on the street that he was a target of the investigation.
"Rather than make it appear that he had some culpability or was in some way responsible for this, he took it upon himself to say, 'I am not guilty, I am not responsible for that tragedy, and I want to be an active member in this criminal justice system. I'm not going to become a second victim in this tragedy,'" Breite said.
The lawyer noted that no weapon was found on Moore. Jason Statuto, an assistant Passaic County prosecutor, said that a murder weapon has not been found and that the investigation into the girl's death is continuing.
Moore's bail was kept at $3 million, but Breite said he will file a motion in an attempt get that reduced. He is being held in protective custody at the Passaic County Jail because of the high-profile nature of the case.
Family and friends of Genesis packed the Passaic County courtroom Friday, with many wearing "Justice for Genesis" hats and T-shirts.
A funeral for Genesis was planned for Friday evening at a church in Paterson. Large crowds were expected at a viewing scheduled to begin prior to the service.
Police believe the suspect was aiming a handgun at someone else when the girl was struck in the head around 8:40 p.m. Saturday as she rode home to a family gathering. Two other children who were with her were not injured.
She was kept on life support until Monday night so her organs could be donated.
Overall crime in Paterson is down, but there has been a dramatic increase in gun violence, acting Police Chief William Fraher said earlier this week. There were 40 nonfatal shootings in the city in 2010 compared with 53 nonfatal shootings in the city so far this year, Fraher said. He noted 125 police officers were laid off in 2011.
Breite said Moore is being used as a "scapegoat" for the city's violence.
"The wrongful persecution of a 19-year-old city youth is not the answer to what's going on in Paterson," he said. "One thing is for sure: the killer of that young girl was not in court today."