August 20, 2015
By Kevin Shea
TRENTON – A Trenton man convicted of strangling his former girlfriend in 2009 will be resentenced due to comments made by his trial judge in an unrelated case, a state Appellate Court ruled Thursday.
The court also found the judge erred in admitting certain testimony, but taken as a whole the errors did not deprive Lamont Richardson of a fair trial and the court affirmed his murder conviction.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier sentenced Richardson to 60 years in prison in 2012 for killing Ashle McKinney.
Police found McKinney, 23, strangled with her own belt inside the Mellon Street apartment she once shared with Richardson, who left the former couple’s then 8-month-old daughter in the apartment unattended after the killing.
During the appeal, the public defender arguing the case presented the appellate court a transcript from an unrelated proceeding in which the judge states in open court that he “always give(s) defendants convicted by a jury a minimum of 60 years NERA, and you can check my record.”
“The public defender did check his record and has presented us with three other murder convictions within a two-and-one-half-year period of defendant’s conviction in which the judge sentenced each defendant to a sixty-year NERA term,” the appellate court wrote in their decision.
The appellate court found the judge’s comments “deprived” them of confidence that the judge sentenced Richardson in accordance with court directives, and ordered his sentence reversed.
The appellate court did not use Billmeier’s name in the decision, referring only to the “judge.”
NERA is the No Early Release Act, a state law that requires a defendant serve 85 percent of their sentences when convicted of a first or second-degree violent crime.
The appellate court also wrote that had the prior statements not been submitted, the court would have “readily” affirmed Richardson’s sentence.
“We cannot, however, ignore the judge’s own statement in open court, which suggests strongly that he may not undertake the ‘individualized consideration during sentencing’ to which each defendant is entitled,” the decision stated.
Richardson is currently behind bars in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton and records on Thursday indicate he is eligible for parole in June of 2060.
A call to Billmeier was returned by a state judiciary spokeswoman, who said judges’ are precluded form commenting publicly on cases.