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Man held for trial in killing of son of S. Jersey NAACP official

A Camden man was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in the Jan. 24 slaying of the son of a South Jersey NAACP official in a predawn shooting outside a Feltonville after-hours club.

Leonaldo Rivera. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia police)
Leonaldo Rivera. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia police)Read more

A Camden man was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in the Jan. 24 slaying of the son of a South Jersey NAACP official in a predawn shooting outside a Feltonville after-hours club.

A friend of Leonaldo Rivera identified the 25-year-old as the gunman who fired numerous times into a Chevrolet Trailblazer about 4:30 a.m. as the SUV idled in the 4200 block of Macalester Street.

But what was behind the shooting that killed Alejandro Rojas-Garcia, 34, and wounded passenger and college classmate Christian Ramos, 24, remained as murky as ever.

Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni also ordered Rivera held on attempted-murder charges in Ramos' shooting.

Afterward, Rojas-Garcia's father, Wilfredo Rojas, a former Philadelphia prisons social worker and an official of the Gloucester County NAACP, thanked witnesses, police, and homicide detectives for solving what he called a "senseless killing."

"This was a cold-blooded murder," he said. "My son did nothing wrong."

Rojas was joined by his son's mother, Aleida Garcia, and several other family members. All wore buttons with his photo below the words "Justice for Alex Rojas-Garcia."

Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega presented as witnesses a couple, Antonio Vicenti and Valery Diaz, who described how they met Rivera at a late-night concert at Tierra Colombiana, a Latin restaurant and club on North Fifth Street.

Both said that they had known Rivera since childhood and that he had struck up a relationship with one of two friends of Diaz's who had joined them for the concert.

Vicenti testified that the group left the restaurant about 1 a.m. into a street covered with an icy snowfall. Deciding to spend more time together, they followed Rivera's car to an unnamed after-hours club nearby on Macalester Street.

As they were leaving, about 4:30 a.m., Vicenti testified, he saw Rivera walk up to and fire into the Trailblazer with the two victims inside.

The driver gunned the engine, Vicenti testified, but the wheels spun on the ice until the SUV broke free and crashed.

Vicenti testified that afterward, Rivera told them that "he had to kill them."

Back at Vicenti's house on North Fifth Street later that morning, Vicenti said, he asked Rivera why he had shot into the van.

"He just gave me a look - cold," Vicenti testified. "I didn't want to touch the subject after that."

Diaz testified that she did not see the shooting, but that Rivera later admitted that "he shot at them and killed them. He had a smile, like he was making fun."

In questioning the couple, defense attorney Robert Patrick Link said several times that Rivera was "innocent" and speculated that Vicenti and Diaz incriminated Rivera to deflect attention from themselves.

The couple, who said they have since moved to another state because they fear for their lives, admitted they did not go to police until after the television network Telemundo showed a surveillance video of them, their friends, and Rivera leaving the club and identified them as persons of interest.

"Somehow they walk in as suspects and walk out as key witnesses," Link said after the hearing. "They [police] have nothing more than two polluted sources."