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    An ICE official said the incident "might have been avoided" if the jail released the man to their custody

    A Mexican citizen charged in a Missouri triple murder was previously jailed and released in New Jersey on domestic violence charges. 

    Luis Rodrigo Perez, 23, was being held at the Middlesex County Jail in December of last year on domestic violence charges. But the county did not honor a detainer from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Tsoukaris, head of the agency's Newark field office, said in a news statement Friday.

    He said Perez was released from the jail in February 2018, without ICE being notified.

    Authorities in Missouri said Perez and a 19-year-old accomplice killed two of their ex-roommates in a home in Springfield Mo., on Nov. 2. He is also accused of killing another 21-year-old woman the next day.

    Police who charged him alleged Perez shot and killed Steven Marler, 38, and Aaron Hampton, 23, after they were kicked out of a house.

    The next day, a relative found Starr's body at her home. She'd been shot six times, authorities said.

    "This tragedy might have been avoided had it not been for the reckless policy required of the Middlesex County Jail by their county officials," Tsoukaris said.

    ICE's Newark office has clashed with the jail before. In July, when announcing an arrest sweep of 37 people, a spokesman called out Middlesex as a "sanctuary county."

    But county officials said they will honor detainers if an inmate has a prior first- or second-degree conviction or was named in a Final Order of Deportation signed by a federal judge.

    "ICE has the legal authority and the resources to secure such orders from a federal judge with regard to any inmate in the county's custody it seeks to detain or deport," county officials wrote in a statement at the time.

    But ICE, they wrote, "has chosen not to seek such orders."

    Middlesex County officials followed up with a statement Friday night addressing Perez's case. ICE was told on Dec. 14 of last year that the county would not honor a detainer requested that day, because Perez had no first- or second-degree convictions.

    Perez was in custody for 51 days after that, and ICE did not request a deportation order from a federal judge, which would have compelled the county to turn him over to the agency.

    "Instead, ICE officials chose to do nothing, which places all responsibility of Mr. Perez's actions squarely upon ICE."

    Also charged in the Missouri case was Perez' girlfriend Dalia Garcia, who took a bus from New Jersey to help burn evidence, authorities allege. She is charged with tampering with evidence.

    -This article contains information from The Associated Press. It has been updated with additional information from Middlesex County.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find on Facebook.

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    Benny Pichardo Santos Arias is in custody on charges that he killed Esmeralda Cedeno

    A man is in custody after authorities say he stabbed and killed a 20-year-old woman who was six months pregnant.

    Benny Pichardo Santos Arias, 25, of Perth Amboy, is charged with first-degree murder, hindering his own apprehension and a weapons charge, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a news statement.

    Santos Arias is accused of attacking Esmeralda Cedeno just after 9 p.m. Thursday at the corner of Sayre Avenue and Steadman Place in Perth Amboy.

    Cedeno was taken to Raritan Bay Medical Center in the city and pronounced dead from her injuries. Her child did not survive the attack.

    The prosecutor's office did immediately say if Cedeno and Arias knew each other.

    Santos Arias was arrested and charged Friday. He is at the Middlesex County Correction Center in North Brunswick before a detention hearing.

    Anyone with information about the incident can contact Perth Amboy Detective Frank Cristiano at 732-324-3800 or prosecutor's Detective Erik Larsen at 732-745-3263.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find on Facebook.

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    Peak fall foliage season is rapidly fading in New Jersey from north to south. But there's still time to check out these beautiful spots

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    Animal shelters continue to be the leading source of pets.

    Facts on animal shelters from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

    * Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. The number is evenly split between dogs and cats. A positive note is that the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 7.2 million in 2011.

    * Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year, again with an even split between cats and dogs.

    * About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. In this, we don't find so even a split; 620,000 of the returned animals are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.

    * Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.

    These are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets (this information was based on a multiple response question, which results in the total percentage exceeding 100% individually for cats and dogs. In addition, the 'other' category includes all source categories that were reported by less than 10% of both dog and cat owners):

    Animal Shelter/Humane Society

    Dogs      23%   Cats     31%


    Dogs     20%   Cats     28%


    Dogs     34%   Cats     3%


    Dogs     6%   Cats     27%

    Private Party

    Dogs     12%   Cats     6%


    Dogs     32%   Cats     39%

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Prosecutors said the victim also slashed his own throat as officers tried to arrest him

    A 39-year-old Manahawkin man was shot by police in a million-dollar Mantoloking home Monday after authorities tried to arrest him for assaulting a woman, officials announced Tuesday.

    Edward M. Walsh was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a statement released by Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer.

    However, the statement said Walsh had also slashed his own throat, and that an autopsy is pending. Armed with a knife, officers opened fire at Walsh after the prosecutor said Walsh stabbed a K-9. 

    Walsh was wanted by authorities on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, theft and weapons offenses for an incident involving a woman he knew in Sayreville on Sunday. NJ Advance Media is withholding Walsh's relationship to the woman because she is a victim of a crime and could be identified. 

    After the incident, the prosecutor said, Walsh stole the woman's car and drove it  to Lacey, an Ocean County town approximately 50 miles south of Sayreville.

    Lacey police contacted the Mantoloking Police Department shortly before noon and informed them that they received "reliable information" that Walsh was at a house on Barnegat Lane in the borough, the statement said.

    Billhimer said Walsh knew of that home because he was previously married to a family member of the prior owner. According to property records, the home sold for $1.55 million in February 2017.

    The current owner told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview Tuesday morning that she had no involvement in what happened on Monday. 

     "It was completely random," the owner said, noting that she doesn't occupy the home full-time.

    According to police, the current owner gave a group of Mantoloking police officers, an Ocean County sheriff's officer with a K-9 and one Bay Head police officer permission to enter the home.

    Inside, the authorities encountered Walsh and yelled at him to drop a knife he was holding, the statement said. When Walsh did not release the knife, prosecutors said, K-9 Kane was released.

    Walsh, who was approximately 20 feet from the officers, stabbed the K-9 with the knife and that's when officers fired at him, according to the statement. Officers discovered that Walsh also had a knife wound across his neck, but it's unclear when it was made, officials said.  

    The K-9 was taken to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls and is expected to recover, the statement said.

    Because the shooting involved a sheriff's officer, the prosecutor said, the New Jersey State Police was brought in to assist with the investigation.

    The investigation is being handled by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, according to a spokesman with the Attorney General's Office. 

    Authorities urged anyone with information to call detectives Brant Uricks or Lindsay Woodfield of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office's Major Crimes Unit at 732-929-2027.

    Mantoloking is a tiny barrier island borough with approximately 300 full-time residents. It swells in size with thousands of vacationers during the summer. 

    On Tuesday, the few full-time residents in the area said they were shocked when confronted with such a large police presence, an unusual sight for a sliver of a town lined with multi-million dollar homes.

    It's unclear how Walsh gained entry into the house on Barnegat Lane.

    Yellow crime-scene tape remained up on Tuesday morning, blocking the pebble driveway and flapping in the wind off the bay.  

    Vinessa Erminio contributed research to this report. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    The K-9 officer, Kane, walked out of an animal hospital with a large escort of fellow officers

    A police dog that was stabbed Monday as he tried to take down a man armed with a knife in a Mantoloking home was released from the hospital on Wednesday morning. 

    Kane, a K-9 with the Ocean County Sheriff's Department, walked out the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls to a large gathering of law enforcement officers from Ocean County.

    Kane was stabbed Monday morning when his handler released him during a confrontation between a group of officers and a suspect wanted for assaulting a woman in Sayreville on Sunday. 

    The suspect, Edward M. Walsh, of Manahawkin, stabbed Kane and was then shot by police, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. Walsh was also found with a self-inflicted stab wound on his neck, authorities said. 

    Walsh, 39, was pronounced dead at the scene by the Ocean County medical examiner. 

    An autopsy is being done to determine the exact cause of death. 

    In September 2014, Kane received a protective vest from Vested Interest K9s, which donates K-9 vests for police dogs around the country in memory of slain K-9 Kye in Oklahoma City. 

    Kane, a Belgian Malinois, joined the Ocean County Sheriff's Department in 2012. He is certified in patrol, tracking and narcotics. 

    Kane's handler, Sheriff's Officer James Kohut, also suffered non-serious injuries in Monday's incident. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    The 46-year-old form South River punched the man, threw him to the ground and then stole his wallet, according to State Police

    A man sought in the robbery and beating of a senior citizen in the bathroom of a Garden State Parkway service area last week has been arrested, authorities said.

    46125872_1885727944815072_2197383398383681536_n.jpgLuke Benneman (Photo courtesy: New Jersey State Police) 

    State Police on Tuesday announced the arrest of Luke Benneman, 46, of South River. 

    Benneman approached the man in a restroom at the Cheesequake Service Area in Sayreville at 3:15 a.m. on Nov. 8 and punched him multiple times, authorities said. He then allegedly tossed the older man to the ground, swiped his wallet and drove away.  

    State Police shared on social media surveillance video of the man arriving at the service area. It led to numerous tips and Benneman's arrest on Monday. 

    Benneman is charged with aggravated assault, robbery and theft by unlawful taking.

    He was sent to the Middlesex County jail in North Brunswick to await a court appearance. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    John "Charlie" Rogers Jr., 42, grabbed the sword during an event at Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School.

    A former NFL football player and Matawan Regional High School standout got a sword out of his car during an altercation at a youth event and threatened to kill a parent and his children, according to a police report.

    John "Charlie" Rogers Jr., 42, was charged with making terroristic threats, stalking and weapons offenses following the Oct. 5 altercation at the Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School.

    The incident happened in the rear parking lot of the school in the presence of children, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

    Rogers, who played five seasons in the NFL from 1999-2003, was also under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the altercation, the report states.

    Aberdeen police Chief John Powers said Rogers turned himself in on Monday and was taken to the Monmouth County jail in Freehold. He was released on Tuesday with certain conditions, according to a Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office spokesman.

    The arrest comes six weeks after an Asbury Park Press report revealed that Rogers left a profanity-laced voicemail in September to the parent of a player. The player had left a Matawan youth football team, where Rogers was a coach, for a team in East Brunswick.

    Following the report, Rogers was banned from the Jersey Shore American Youth Football league and fired from his job as the offensive coordinator at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel.

    In 2003, Rogers was sued by an Old Bridge police officer after he resisted arrest following a fight in a gentlemen's club parking lot on Route 35. Rogers, then a 26-year-old wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills, was charged with aggravated assault, making terroristic threats, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, according to a report in the local newspaper.

    It's unclear what the result of the charges and the lawsuit was. 

    Before he was drafted in 1999 by the Seattle Seahawks, Rogers played football at Georgia Tech. He also played for the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    A winter weather advisory will be in effect from Thursday morning to Friday morning in northern and central counties.

    The National Weather Service issued a series of winter weather advisories and a wind advisory as a strong coastal storm moves toward the state on Thursday. 

    The advisories mean that periods of snow, limited visibility and freezing rain will make for a messy commute, primarily during the Thursday evening rush hour.

    What to expect, how much snow is coming

    Here are the different advisories posted in New Jersey and when they will be effective: 

    -- A winter weather advisory from 7 a.m. Thursday to 3 p.m. Thursday in Camden, Gloucester, Salem and northwestern Burlington. Those areas are expected to get mixed precipitation, with up to 1 inch of snow and a light glaze of ice.  

    -- A winter weather advisory from 10 a.m. Thursday to 9 p.m. Thursday in Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset counties, where 1 to 3 inches of snow could accumulate, along with a light glaze of ice. 

    -- A winter weather advisory from 10 a.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday in Morris and Warren counties, where 1 to 3 inches of snow is forecast, along with a coating of ice.

    -- A winter weather advisory from noon Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday in Sussex County, where 2 to 4 inches of snow is expected, along with up to two-tenths of an inch of ice.


    -- A winter weather advisory from 1 p.m. Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday in western Bergen and western Passaic counties.

    -- A winter weather advisory from 1 p.m. Thursday to 9 p.m. Thursday in Essex, Hudson, Union, eastern Bergen and eastern Passaic.

    The weather service also issued a wind advisory, effective from 3 p.m. Thursday to 3 a.m. Friday in Monmouth, Ocean and southeastern Burlington, and a wind advisory from 1 p.m. Thursday through 11 p.m. Thursday in Atlantic and Cape May counties. 

    Forecasters are calling for steady winds of 25 mph to 35 mph, with some gusts as strong as 45 to 50 mph.

    NJ Advance Media staff writer Len Melisurgo contributed to this report. Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find on Facebook.

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    Photos of dozens of signings plus sport-by-sport lists

    (Please refresh for updated photos over the few days)

    The time is here for high school athletes to make it official.

    The stars of so many sports from New Jersey high schools go from recruits to signees on Wednesday, National Signing Day for the fall's early signing period.

    The fall signing period runs through Nov. 21 for Division 1 boys and girls basketball and to Aug. 1 of 2019 for other Division 1 and 2 sports. This is for all sports with the exception of football, which has its early signing period from Dec. 19 to Dec. 21.

    Athletes who have made verbal commitments to a university can officially accept a scholarship by signing with their chosen school during these periods.

    We plan to bring you stories, photos and videos from around the state of Signing Day ceremonies. As such, we invite all athletes, administrators, parents and other supporters of the high school programs and athletes to send us anything you would like to see included in our coverage by filling out this form.

    SEND SIGNINGS: will post signings and Signing Day photos

    A breakdown of the state's student-athletes who are expected to sign, starting Wednesday.

    Please refresh throughout the day for updates on signings, photos and videos.





















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    The university reversed its previous decision in a case that fueled conservative backlash.

    The white Rutgers University professor who wrote f--- white people in a scathing social media rant said he has been cleared of wrongdoing in a reversal of the university's original ruling. 

    Rutgers previously determined that professor James Livingston's speech was not protected by the First Amendment and he violated university policy in a Facebook diatribe about gentrification and "little caucasian a--holes."

    But a second review, ordered by university President Robert Barchi, found that complaints made against Livingston were either anonymous or came from people with no affiliation to Rutgers, according to a decision Livingston posted to his Facebook page.

    Rutgers subsequently cleared Livingston of violating the policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment, according to the letter. 

    "I'm relieved that my right to free speech and my academic freedom have been validated by this retraction," Livingston said in a statement. 

    Rutgers declined to comment because the university cannot disclose information about personnel matters, spokeswoman Dory Devlin said. 

    The ruling punctuates a controversy that made national headlines and generated backlash from both conservatives who considered the rant liberal hypocrisy and liberals who viewed the reaction as an assault on First Amendment rights.  

    Livingston, the latest in a series of left-leaning professors to come under fire for their commentary, was backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that defends the rights of college students and faculty members.

    The group celebrated the decision.

    "Any other result would have undermined the free speech and academic freedom rights of all Rutgers faculty members," said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE director of litigation

    A tenured history professor, Livingston was facing suspension from his $129,000 position, according to his union. He thanked his FIRE, his union representatives and colleagues for publicly supporting him. 

    "As a tenured professor, I have resources and protections that are unavailable to most employees," he said. "That is not just unfortunate, it is simply wrong, and needs redressing."

    The saga began when Livingston went to get a burger in Harlem this May and saw the restaurant near his home was "overrun with little caucasian a--holes," he wrote on Facebook. 

    "OK, I officially now hate white people," Livingston wrote, later adding: "I hereby resign from my race. F--- these people."

    He also wrote "slide around the floor, you little s---head, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white." 

    He later said his rant was satire intended to be commentary on gentrification.

    In its initial ruling, the university Office of Employment Equity determined Livingston broke the Rutgers policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment.

    It said his speech was not protected because its significance did not outweigh the potential disruption to the university's mission. And it said Rutgers has a blanket policy covering discrimination against any race, even though Livingston argued there's no such thing as reverse-racism. 

    After backlash to the ruling, Barchi ordered the review saying the case was complex and should be handled with "exceptional diligence." 

    "Like many in our community, I found that Professor Livingston's comments showed exceptionally poor judgment, were offensive, and, despite the professor's claims of satire, were not at all funny," Barchi wrote at the time "At the same time, few values are as important to the university as the protection of our First Amendment rights -- even when the speech we are protecting is insensitive and reckless." 

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook.


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    Middlesex County schools have announced delayed openings or school closings due to snow for Friday, Nov. 16

    A messy winter storm that brought snow, freezing rain and icy conditions to the northern half of New Jersey on Thursday has caused schools to announce delayed openings and closures for Friday.

    The following Middlesex County schools are closed or have delayed openings on Friday, Nov. 16 as officials work to clear parking lots, sidewalks and roads.


    • Edison (delayed schedule)
    • Green Brook (2 hours)
    • Metuchen (delayed schedule)
    • North Brunswick (90 minutes)
    • Piscataway (2 hours)
    • South Brunswick (90 minute delay)


    • No schools reported.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.


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    Sweeney has said he would not allow the bill to proceed until he knew he had a minimum of 21 "yes" votes, and preferably within his own party. Vitale's support could be a sign the Senate is closing in on that number.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Interested in the marijuana business industry? NJ Cannabis Insider is a new premium intelligence briefing that features exclusive weekly content geared toward entrepreneurs, lawyers and realtors. View a sample issue.

    One of the most strident opponents in the state Senate to legalizing marijuana said Thursday he is now "leaning yes," and predicted enough Democrats will change their minds and make one of Gov. Phil Murphy's top priorities a reality.

    Political insiders have said the "adult use" marijuana legislation has enough support in the 80-member Assembly to pass, but the reluctance of a handful of Democratic senators has stalled negotiations all year. 

    Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex and a prime sponsor of a companion bill to expand the state's medicinal marijuana program, said he is likely to vote yes to legalizing weed for people 21 and older. 

    "In the end, the pros will outweigh the cons," Vitale told NJ Advance Media.

    Earlier this week, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he expected the long-awaited public hearing on the legislation to occur Nov. 26.

    Sweeney has said he would not allow the bill to proceed until he knew he had a minimum of 21 "yes" votes, and preferably within his own party. Vitale's support could be a sign the Senate is closing in on that number.

    Why the delay on legal weed? Murphy and Sweeney point fingers on final support 

    Sweeney could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Vitale said despite his concerns about traffic safety and potentially giving minors easier access to marijuana, he could find compelling reasons to vote yes.

    Legalization would address the racial inequities around marijuana arrests, Vitale said. Despite the facts that white people and black people use marijuana at the same rate, black people are more than three times more likely to be arrested and incarceration for doing so.

    "There's an institutional bias for some in law enforcement and those prosecuting these crimes, and that is obviously wrong," Vitale said. His vote will be a sure thing once he learns more about how the bill sponsors intend to expunge past marijuana arrests, he said.

    Vitale said he is also encouraged by the fact that the state will regulate the industry.

    "Cannabis will be safer for the consumer. Right now, you don't know what you are buying -- it could be tainted with another drug," he said. "And drug dealers will take a huge hit. It could drive many of them out of the business." 

    The "adult use" bill, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Assemblyman Jamel Holley, both D-Union, must be approved by committees in both houses of the Legislature before they are voted on by each chamber.

    Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, has not yet announced a hearing date for the bill.

    Murphy has repeatedly stressed his willingness to sign the bill into law, predicting it will pass by the end of the year.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find Politics on Facebook.


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    Detectives said he led them to the knife he used in the crime. Her baby also died

    The man charged with stabbing a six-month pregnant woman last week in Perth Amboy later admitted stabbing her, and led detectives to the knife he used, detective wrote in a court filing.

    Benny M. Pichardo Santos Arias, 25, is charged with murder and related crimes for the Nov. 8 slaying of Esmeralda Cedeno on a city street. 

    She was 20 years old. Her baby, a boy she'd named Avian, did not survive.

    The Middlesex County detective, in an affidavit of probable cause, wrote that Santos Arias confessed to stabbing Cedeno and led police to a knife, which he'd hidden. One of the crime's he charged with is hindering his own apprehension.

    Santos Arias said the stabbing was self defense. "His version has not been corroborated, either by witness statements or surveillance," the detective wrote.

    Police obtained video footage in the investigation, but they did not say in the filing what exactly is shows.

    The relationship between the suspect and victim, if any, was not described in the affidavit.

    On a GoFundMe page raising money for her family, Cedeno - known as "Younge Chuchii" - is described as an ambitious, fearless young woman who's smile could light up a room and projected a happy vibe.

    Santos Arias remained in the Middlesex County jail Friday, lodged under the name Benny Pichardo.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    Christopher "C-Dub" Thompson, 26, of Edison, was arrested in Lithonia, Georgia by members of the U.S. Marshals.

    An Edison man wanted for murder in connection with a fatal shooting in New Brunswick last month has been arrested in Georgia, according to authorities.  

    The U.S. Marshall Service arrested Christopher "C-Dub" Thompson, 26, of Edison, at a home in Lithonia, Georgia, on Thursday, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a release Saturday. 

    Thompson -- who is facing charges of murder, attempted murder and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose -- is currently being held at the DeKalb County Jail in Georgia. He is awaiting extradition to New Jersey on the charges. 

    Thompson is accused of fatally shooting Larenz Ogarro, 23, of New Brunswick, on October 26 in the city.

    The incident occurred shortly after a related aggravated assault by Eric "E-Z" Inman who was charged and arrested on October 27, 2018, the prosecutor's office said. 

    The Georgia jail does not list an attorney for Thompson. 

    The investigation is active and continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Abode at (732) 745-5217 or Detective Abromaitis at (732) 745- 4436.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    Firefighters are still at the scene of a fire that erupted at a Perth Amboy home in the early hours of Sunday morning.

    Firefighters continue to battle a blaze that erupted at a Perth Amboy building in the early hours of Sunday morning. 

    The fire began around 4 a.m. in a building with a restaurant and apartments on State Street and Dekalb Avenue, an NJ Advance Media photographer at the scene said. 

    Water was being poured on smokey debris after 9 a.m., as people gathered to watch across the street. 

    Smoke continued to come out of the upstairs apartments and through the roof more than four hours after the fire began. 

    The Perth Amboy fire department did not immediately provide additional information on Sunday. 

    Photographer Ed Murray contributed to this report. 

    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find on Facebook.

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    Shawn Butler could serve up to five years in prison

    A church youth minister who was convicted in the 1990s for sexual assault was convicted again on Friday of having inappropriate sexual contact with a teenage girl.

    A jury found Shawn Butler, of Hillsborough, guilty of criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey announced. 

    shawn butler.jpegShawn Butler 

    Butler, 52, worked as a youth minister at Eternal Life Christian Center in Franklin Township and served on the church's executive board.

    At trial, Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Carver made the case that Butler improperly touched a 15-year-old girl in South Brunswick and at his home in Hillsborough several times between March and June 2014.

    The charges from those 2014 incidents spurred a legal question that went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

    Butler had worked in the church's No Limits Youth Ministry while a registered sex offender under Megan's Law, which prohibits "an excluded sex offender to hold a position, or otherwise participate, in a paid or unpaid capacity, in a youth serving organization." The No Limits program was described as helping "prepare students to be effective at home, junior high, senior high, and college."

    Butler notified Eternal Life church leaders of his prior convictions. He was convicted in 1990 of sexual assault in Middlesex County. He was sentenced to seven years in prison on that offense, which occurred while he was still on probation for a 1988 criminal sexual contact conviction.

    In 2014, police responding at the church charged him with violating his Megan's Law restrictions after learning he worked with youth there for a decade. A Superior Court judge later tossed out an indictment in that case, saying that Butler was working for a church, and not an explicitly "youth-serving organization" which the law bars sex offenders from participating in.

    After appeals, the state Supreme Court ruled that Megan's Law does not automatically exclude the church and youth group, and said a jury should decide whether Butler violated Megan's Law by working there. That case in Somerset County is still pending, reported. 

    Butler's attorney and the church did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

    For his conviction Friday, Butler could receive up to five years in prison and will be on parole supervision for life. 

    Judge Joseph A. Paone will sentence Butler on Feb. 11, 2019.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find on Facebook

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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey need homes.

    Thanksgiving is coming. And as with any holiday - and the celebrations that go along with a holiday - the festivities and pets may not necessarily mix.

    Here are some reminders to help keep your pet from becoming a medical emergency:

    * It's not unusual for emergency veterinarians to treat dogs for a chicken or turkey bone they have swallowed. Dogs getting a hold of bones can lead to major problems. Make sure to keep them and finished plates where pets can't reach them.

    * Dogs are naturally going to want to participate in the vittles at a gathering and some folks give them as treats, but be aware of things a pet can't eat. Foods that can sicken dogs include: avocados, apple seeds, caffeinated beverages or alcohol, onions, potatoes, grapes, tomatoes and chocolate.

    * Comings and goings are a natural part of parties, whether its guests arriving or perhaps people stepping outside for a smoke. Pets that live indoors may be excited by all the company ... and bolt out an open door. If your pet isn't supposed to go out, make sure you and your guests don't leave doors open for very long.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    Firefighters responded to an explosion early Sunday in a building on State Street in Perth Amboy

    Three firefighters were hurt and members of 18 families left temporarily homeless Sunday in Perth Amboy after an explosion caused a four-alarm fire in Perth Amboy.

    The fire began shortly after 4 a.m. when firefighters responding to a report of an explosion at the El Boy Restaurant at the corner of State Street and Dekalb Avenue found the building engulfed in flames.

    Twelve people in the building made it out safely, fire officials said. A total of 18 families living in two adjacent buildings were displaced but expected to return home by Monday, officials said.

    The Red Cross reported it was helping 14 people with temporary lodging, food and clothing.

    It was not immediately clear Monday how many people lived inside the affected building.

    The restaurant was in the first-floor of the structure with living space on the second floor. The property was zoned for mixed-use retail and residential, according to property records.

    "There were no civilian injuries and there were three firefighter injuries that were all treated and released from the hospital," the Perth Amboy Fire Department said in a statement.

    Two trucks with tower ladders and several fire hoses were used to bring the blaze under control, the fire department said.

    Late Sunday, the fire department reported that the building had been mostly demolished to allow the fire department to douse hot-spots.

    "The fire is currently under investigation and crews are still operating awaiting the demolition crew to bring the building down," the fire department said late Sunday.

    Perth Amboy was assisted by firefighters from Keasbey, Hopelawn, South Amboy, Fords, Port Reading, Sayreville, Iselin, Edison and members of the Middlesex County Fire Marshal's Office.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find on Facebook.

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    Some gripping videos of police officers caught in action

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