Noel Powell III, a former Lawrence Township resident, has pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter for shooting another man in the head as the victim sat at the bar at Appleebee’s restaurant on Route 1 in Lawrence in 2017.
Powell’s plea to second-degree manslaughter was made during a Feb. 3 hearing before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Darlene Pereksta. He was represented by defense attorney Robin Lord.
Powell will be sentenced by Pereksta on March 11.
Powell had been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder for killing Devin Smith, who also lived in Lawrence, but he was allowed to plead to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter in a plea bargain reached between the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and his attorney.
At the Feb. 3 hearing, Assistant Prosecutor Michael Nardelli proposed amending the indictment from first-degree murder to second-degree manslaughter. The amended indictment was agreed to by Lord and accepted by Pereksta in the virtual court session.
Both the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and Lord, Powell’s defense attorney, obtained expert evaluations of Powell, according to a spokesman for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
The spokesman said that based on the experts’ opinions regarding Powell’s state of mind at the time of the shooting, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office felt it was unlikely to successfully approve first-degree murder to a jury. The result was a plea bargain.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has recommended a prison sentence of seven years under the No Early Release Act. This means Powell must serve 85% of his prison term, or five years and 11 months, before he would be eligible for release.
If Powell is released, he will be on parole supervision for three years. If he violates the terms of the supervised parole, he will be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of the three-year parole term.
The sentence will be determined by Pereksta at the March 11 court session. The judge is not bound by recommendation of the the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Powell could be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison.
According to police, Powell entered the Applebee’s restaurant, which sits in front of the Quaker Bridge Mall, and walked up to the bar where Smith was sitting, shortly after midnight on Nov. 14, 2017. He shot Smith in the head and fled.
Smith, who also lived in Lawrence Township, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Powell was arrested five days later in Trenton by members of the Mercer County Homicide Task Force and the U.S. Marshal’s NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force.