New Jersey man shot two people dead after being released from jail early due to COVID-19, prosecutors say

shooting
Source: Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, Unsplash

May. 20 2021, Published 6:34 p.m. ET

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A man has been arrested for the shooting of two people at a party in New Jersey — just months after being released from prison early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Ronny Paden was charged with two counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and certain persons not to have firearms. He was taken into custody on May 7.

On Jan. 24, just after 1 a.m., police were called to a home in the Edgewater Park area. When they arrived, they discovered the bodies of James Gist III, 29, and Marcus Thompson, 29, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.

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Gist was shot while inside the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle. Thompson was shot inside the home. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. 

About 10 people gathered at the house to celebrate a birthday. Only Gist and Thompson were shot.

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Police say neither were the intended target of the shooting, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. 

Paden was released from jail for previous crimes months early from a New Jersey state prison sentence in November 2020 under a law designed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus among state inmates,  according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. 

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The law automatically reduced prison sentences for those with less than one year remaining.

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said this case “forces us to pause and consider the public safety implications of the drive over the past year to release inmates early, purportedly due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

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“While no one wants state inmates or detainees placed at undue medical risk, the data suggests that inmates are no more likely to die of COVID-19 than any other New Jersey resident,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “Due to ‘COVID credits’ applied to his sentence, this defendant and many other inmates have been released early from duly-imposed sentences without any individualized consideration of the crime for which they were convicted or the risk that they will resume their criminal activities. A risk assessment is done before a defendant is released from pretrial detention, while the presumption of innocence still attaches; no less of an assessment should be done for people who actually have been convicted of a crime, especially a violent crime. 

“Our residents have been traumatized by the pandemic over the past year-plus, forced to fear for their health, their jobs and their children’s education. They shouldn’t have to fear indiscriminate gun violence as well. Our residents’ safety ought to be given at least equal weight to the health risks to our inmates, especially since our prison system has effectively managed the coronavirus to keep prisoners safe.” 

Paden has been detained in the Burlington County Jail until charges are adjudicated.

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