Somerset County Man Sentenced to 16 Years in Shooting of 5-Year-Old

A Somerset County man has been sentenced to 16 years in state prison for shooting a 5-year-old Plainfield boy in the face as he was walking home from school with his mother early last year, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Friday.

Jose Rodriguez, 19, of North Plainfield was sentenced Friday by state Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Walsh, who also ordered five years of parole supervision. Under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, Rodriguez will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

The shooting arose out of a dispute involving rival gang members flashing opposing gang signs at each other in the area of the 300 block of Plainfield Avenue on January 12, 2013, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor James Tansey, who prosecuted the case. After words were exchanged, Rodriguez, a confirmed gang member, pulled out a handgun and fired in the direction of members of the rival gang when a stray bullet struck the boy.

“A bullet from a gang-related dispute hitting a small child is every community’s worst nightmare. We hope that today’s sentencing sends the message that gang-related violence of this nature is completely intolerable,” acting Prosecutor Park said. “Every parent in this county should be able to walk down the street with their child free of fear that something like this will happen.”

The victim’s mother, who spoke in court on Friday, flagged down a passing vehicle immediately after the shooting and drove her son to the hospital herself. Despite the bullet striking him in the mouth and lodging in his neck, the boy eventually made a full recovery.

“The doctor said it was a miracle he survived,” Tansey said.

No one else was struck by gunfire during the shooting. An intensive joint investigation by the Plainfield Police Division and the Union County Homicide Task Force followed, and Rodriguez was arrested two days later.

Rodriguez subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted murder in November 2013.