NEWARK, N.J. – A jury acquitted a Newark man Wednesday of attempted murder for a brutal 2013 home invasion caught on a home security video, but convicted him of aggravated assault and other charges.
The lawyer for Shawn Custis, who is black, argued during the trial that a responding police officer’s racist remarks, also captured on the video, had tainted the investigation.
Because of a prior criminal record, Custis, 45, could face up to life in prison for his convictions on aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, robbery, burglary, criminal restraint and theft.
The specter of potential police bias hung over the case after it was revealed that Millburn Police Det. Collin McMillan made the remarks after arriving at the scene.
McMillan testified he didn’t question Custis and didn’t collect evidence, though he was present at the man’s arrest and filed evidence collected by other investigators.
The video shows a burly man pushing his way into a suburban home where a mother and her 3-year-old daughter are watching television. He then punches and kicks the woman for several minutes, at one point throwing her down a flight of stairs.
A jury of nine blacks and three whites deliberated for parts of two days before reaching the verdict Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors showed the video to jurors at the beginning of the trial; when Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Jamel Semper showed it again later in the trial, two female jurors held their hands over their eyes.
Custis’ attorney, John McMahon, argued his client was framed by racist cops. Prosecutors contended that bias didn’t play a part and that they were led to Custis by several people who identified him after seeing the video on television.
Custis was arrested about a week after the crime in New York City, after police say they received calls from several women saying they recognized him. Prosecutors also presented evidence that blood on jeans found in his apartment came from the victim, who testified but whose name has not been released.
McMahon argued that the investigation was tainted by racial animus and that police ignored evidence that could have pointed to other suspects. He also said the video quality wasn’t good enough for a positive identification of Custis.