Authorities say an arrest has been made in connection to a double fatal shooting in Burlington County back in January.

27-year-old Ronny Paden of Delran was taken into custody on May 7th. He has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, and second-degree certain persons not to have firearms.

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina and Edgewater Park Township Police Chief Robert Hess say police were called to a home in the 200 block of Dogwood Road around 1AM on January 24th. There, they discovered the bodies of 29-year-old James Gist III of Westampton and 29-year-old Marcus Thompson of Willingboro.

Authorities say, "Gist had been shot while inside the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle. Thompson was shot inside the residence." Both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

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Coffina's office says nearly a dozen people had gathered at that house to celebrate a birthday. The two people that were killed were the only ones hit by gunfire and neither victim was the intended target.

During a hearing Wednesday in Superior Court, Assistant Prosecutor Jamie Hutchinson noted that the murders were committed after Paden was released early from state prison in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement, 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."

"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. 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," Coffina stated.

He continued, "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."

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