Gang members killed three young adults and attempted to murder a fourth in an attempt to find out whether one gang member “had heart,” according to a New Jersey prosecutor.

Jury deliberations began May 20 in the case of Rodolfo Godinez, the first of six defendants charged with killing the youths in the playground of the Mount Vernon School in Newark, N.J. in August 2007.

According to the Associated Press, Essex County, N.J. Assistant Prosecutor Thomas McTigue said in his closing arguments that the execution-style shootings were planned by MS-13, an El-Salvadoran street gang, to test whether an aspiring gang member was courageous enough.

In the end, 20-year-olds Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower and Terrance Aeriel, 18, were left dead in a schoolyard. A woman, then 19, was shot in the head and slashed with a machete. Her name has not been released because two of the six defendants were charged with sexually assaulting her.

According to the AP, McTigue said four of the defendants were called to the playground by defendant Godinez, a high-ranking member of the gang, “because he saw the opportunity of soft targets in an isolated area,” according to

Godinez helped target the victims and told police that there was a discussion about whether co-defendant Jose Carranza “had heart.”

“You don’t just wander in off the street to that schoolyard,” McTigue said. “You can’t see the victims, you don’t know who you’re targeting. Someone has to spot the target for you.”

But defense attorney Roy Greenman claimed the attacks were the results of a spontaneous robbery that went wrong. His client admitted that he was at the scene of the shootings but asserts that he did not plan them or participate in the killings other than taking the victims’ wallets and identification cards. However, Greenman acknowledged that Godinez’s statements had obvious lies, such as one of the victims belonging to a rival gang.

“Obviously Mr. Godinez wasn’t going to tell police who the real perpetrators were, out of fear or loyalty,” Greenman said, according to “So he ends up telling a story that makes no sense, yet the state is going to argue to you that this statement is proof of his guilt.”

Harvey, Aeriel and the 19-year-old attended Delaware State University, where Hightower planned to attend in the fall.