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JERSEY CITY, N.J. - A teenager has been charged with killing five people - including a couple on the day of their engagement party - during a two-month crime spree a veteran prosecutor called one of the most extraordinary displays of wanton, gratuitous violence he's ever seen.
Shiquan Bellamy, 19, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to all five slayings. He appeared in a New Jersey courtroom while wearing dark-green prison scrubs and cuffed at the waist and wrists, answering "yes, sir" in a barely audible whisper to a judge's questions.
Prosecutors had charged Bellamy in the April 4 shooting deaths of Michael Muchiaki, 27, and his fiancee, Nia Haqq, 25, who were returning to their Jersey City home from their engagement party Easter Sunday when they were killed during what police say was a botched carjacking.
Bellamy, also of Jersey City, is charged in that case with felony murder, armed robbery and weapons offenses along with his cousin Latonia Bellamy, 19, and Darmelia Lawrence, also 19. The two women have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a possible life sentence upon conviction.
Hudson County prosecutor Edward DeFazio said "great detective work" by his office's homicide squad and Jersey City detectives then tied Shiquan Bellamy to three prior murders, and additional charges were brought against him.
"What disturbs me the most is how a 19-year-old can be involved in this depraved, gratuitous killing," DeFazio said.
Bellamy is charged in the Feb. 2 felony murders of cousins Mileak Richardson and Lester "Bleek" Thompson, who prosecutors say he set up and then robbed of cash, cell phones and drugs.
Hakeem Lester and Ronald Lawrence are charged with Bellamy in the killings of Richardson and Thompson. Lester and Lawrence, both 21, have pleaded not guilty. DeFazio said in an added twist Lawrence is the brother of Darmelia Lawrence, the woman charged with Bellamy in the killings of the engaged couple.
"It appears to be a dysfunctional group as far as anti-social behavior goes," DeFazio said. "We can't analyze this one - because it's impossible for right-thinking people to understand."
Bellamy also is charged with shooting and killing Lamonte Wright, 20, on March 27. The incident did not involve robbery or an altercation, according to DeFazio, who said Bellamy shot Wright, a stranger, in the back as he walked his girlfriend to her car.
Bellamy, who remains at the Hudson County jail on a $6 million cash bond, was represented at state Superior Court in Hudson County on Tuesday by attorney Keith Hirschorn, who said he was filling in until a public defender can be assigned. Hirschorn declined to comment on Bellamy's behalf.
DeFazio said the young ages of the defendants, the availability of illegal weapons and the seemingly random but intense level of the violence needs to be questioned by community leaders and policy makers.
"This is something, as far as behavior is concerned, that, thank God, we don't see too often," he said. "But seeing it here is more than enough to last a lifetime."