Three convicted of 2008 murder, kidnapping, robbery of Somerset County woman

A Union County jury has delivered guilty verdicts against three men accused of playing key roles in orchestrating the 2008 kidnapping and murder of Somerset County woman Tanya Worthy following a robbery gone wrong, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Wednesday.

The jury deliberated during portions of six days following a four-month trial before state Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue prior to convicting 26-year-old Sharif Torres, 31-year-old Robert Harris, and 36-year-old Jamel Lewis of charges including felony murder, kidnapping, two counts of robbery, and aggravated arson.

A fourth defendant in the case, 38-year-old Rashawn Bond, was tried separately last year, being found guilty on May 14, 2014 and being sentenced to life in prison last fall.

The date was October 28, 2008 when Bond, an acquaintance of Worthy, invited her to his home, according to Union County Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Ann M. Luvera and Assistant Prosecutor Bruce M. Holmes, who prosecuted the case.

The invitation was a setup. Shortly after Worthy arrived, the other defendants, associates of Bond, rushed into the home in what later was found to have been a staged robbery, Luvera said.

The defendants then transported Worthy to her home in Green Brook, where they believed large quantities of cash were stashed away in a safe. But Worthy’s boyfriend foiled an attempted robbery there when he rushed back into the house upon spotting one of the men brandishing a handgun.

The defendants left the home in Worthy’s BMW and later shot her to death at an undetermined location, according to Luvera. They subsequently drove the car to a secluded section of Elizabeth, where they set it on fire with Worthy’s body inside, she said.

An intensive yearlong investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force, spearheaded by Prosecutor’s Office Sgt. Joe Vendas, resulted in the identification of Bond, Torres, Harris, and Lewis as suspects, and they all were arrested in December 2009. Assisting in the arrests and investigation were the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, Green Brook Police Department, Elizabeth Police Department, and Elizabeth Fire Department.

“Today’s verdict is a testament to the tenacity of the detectives and prosecutors who made it their mission over the course of nearly seven years to earn justice for Tanya Worthy and her family and friends,” Park said.

Torres and Harris, both Philadelphia residents, and Lewis, of Newark, all are expected to face terms of up to life in state prison when they are sentenced later this year.