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Judge Denies Bail Cut In Bergenfield Drug Robbery Shootings

Defendants in Bergenfield drug dealer robbery shooting in court in Hackensack today. Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer, defense attorney Kevin Roe Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Zakeer Roberts, defense attorney Michael Robbins Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
In court in Hackensack on Monday. Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia

BERGENFIELD, N.J. -- A judge in Hackensack refused on Monday to reduce bail any further for a Newark man charged in a drug-related Bergenfield shooting on Labor Day weekend 2013.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Susan J. Steele said that bail for James Atwoods already had been cut from $1 million to $650,000 -- and that she saw nothing to warrant a further reduction.

Atwoods and four co-defendants charged in the Sept. 1, 2013 break-in and shooting of John Newcomb and Gilbert Mercado were brought court in an effort to move toward a trial.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Danielle Grootenboer said four of them were offered plea deals of 10 years in prison.

A longer term was necessary for the fifth, Zakeer Roberts of East Orange, who is currently serving time in state prison on several gun convictions, she said.

Steele stopped short of setting a trial date for Atwoods, Roberts and the other three: Hasan “Smoke” Sly of East Orange, Christian Nova of Englewood and Mario Ferreira of Succasunna.

All five were variously charged with 22 counts of criminal wrongdoing — nearly a third of them first-degree offenses — in an indictment returned by a grand jury in Hackensack 14 months ago.

Authorities said what was a drug-dealer robbery turned violent when the two intended victims resisted and Roberts and Sly shot them.

The shooting was set in motion, they said, when Nova diverted Roberts and Sly from trying to collect money from him by pointing to Newcomb and Mercado as dealers who would have both money and drugs.

Both were shot and a woman in the house temporarily held prisoner, authorities said.

Defense attorneys told Steele that they plan to ask her to sever drug offenses from attempted murder and kidnapping charges, to have the defendants' statements excluded and to suppress evidence.

The judge told them to return for her decisions on those motions on Dec. 21.

Sly remained held on $650,000 bail, down from $1 million, in the Bergen County Jail.

Ferreira, who has had his bail reduced twice, remained held on $400,000.

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