Gloucester County Pays $25K to NJ Man Serving 30 Years for Gruesome Hammer Murder
A man serving prison time for a 2003 murder of a South Jersey father and business owner will be paid $25,000 to drop his lawsuit against Gloucester County.
Aaron Sheppard, 32, sued the county in 2011 claiming he was beaten by jail guards in 2009.
At the time, Sheppard was being temporarily held at the county facility while he pursued his appeal of his 2003 conviction, which sentenced him to 35 years in prison.
Prosecutors had considered seeking the death penalty against Sheppard before he agreed to plead guilty in the botched burglary. Prosecutors said he broke into a Woodbury tire shop, where the owner was sleeping, and then used what investigators believed was a hammer to hit Joseph J. Green, 52, of Audubon, over the head.
Sheppard’s lawsuit, filed in federal district court of New Jersey, claimed Corrections Officer Jeffrey Zavis shoved him against a wall and threw him to the ground after Sheppard handed his pillow to a fellow inmate because it was his last day before returning to East Jersey State Prison in Rahway.
The lawsuit claims he was strip searched in a shower room away from video cameras. During the strip, he was thrown against a wall and beaten on his back and ribs. Sheppard says he woke up bleeding on the floor and had to be hospitalized in order to get 10 stitches on a 2.5 centimeter cut above an eye.
Jail guards, however, denied any force was used. Zavis claimed Sheppard had to be restrained because he became verbally abusive and physically threatening.
Jail officials said it was standard procedure to strip search inmates involved in confrontations with guards.
In July of this year, U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman, sitting in Camden, allowed the lawsuit to continue to trial because the county had not explained Sheppard's injuries.
Last month, however, the county's Board of Freeholders agreed to settle the lawsuit in order “to avoid continuing litigation and further expense.” The county did not admit any fault or wrongdoing.
Sheppard was represented pro bono by Brian R. Zurich of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia. The county was represented by Paola Kaczynski of William J. Ferren & Associates in Philadelphia.