NJ man faces 10-year prison term in hit-run death of rival

FILE - Generic gavel on wooden table.

An 85-year-old man faces a 10-year prison term after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the hit-and-run death of a romantic rival 2 1/2 years ago in New Jersey.

Johnny Westbrook of Asbury Park entered the plea Friday weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial on a murder charge in the December 2018 death of 63-year-old Daniel Rivera, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Under questioning by his public defender, Westbrook acknowledged that he struck Rivera, his neighbor in an adjacent apartment building, and continued to drive with the victim stuck underneath the sport utility vehicle, dragging him for several feet and not stopping to offer aid.

"You understand that by dragging him and hitting him and not stopping for help, you exhibited extreme indifference to his life and that those actions caused his death?" the defense attorney asked.

"Yes," Westbrook said.

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Superior Court Judge Ellen Torregrossa-O’Connor told him that without a plea bargain, he could have faced up to 30 years for the first-degree offense. The state agreed to treat it as a second-degree crime and recommend a 10-year term. Prosecutors said he will be required to serve 85% of that term before being eligible for parole.

Joseph Cummings, assistant Monmouth County prosecutor, told the judge that the victim’s family was consulted and approved of the plea bargain.

Cummings has alleged that Westbrook followed Rivera to the supermarket, parked outside and waited for him to emerge in order to run him over. The prosecutor alleges that about a month earlier, the two got into a physical fight in the apartment building hallway, swinging canes at each other before Westbrook punched the victim in the nose.

Defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to have their client declared incompetent for trial, saying he has memory loss. A psychiatrist testified that Westbrook has diabetes, hypertension and seizure disorders and has had prostate cancer and several strokes. But she believed he was faking or exaggerating any memory loss.

The Asbury Park Press reports that Westbrook previously served six years of a seven-year prison term in a February 2004 shooting in Neptune of a man having an affair with a 23-year-old woman to whom Westbrook had given an engagement ring.