Three defendants sentenced for 2008 murder, kidnapping, robbery of Somerset County woman

Two defendants were sentenced Friday to 60 years in state prison, with a third defendant receiving a life term, for the roles they played 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.

State Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Donohue sentenced 26-year-old Sharif Torres and 31-year-old Robert Harris, both of Philadelphia, to 60 years apiece, with at least 85 percent of those terms required to be served before the possibility of parole, while also handing down a life sentence for 36-year-old Jamel Lewis of Newark for a range of charges including felony murder, kidnapping, two counts of robbery, and aggravated arson.

A Union County jury deliberated during portions of six days following a four-month trial before finding all three men guilty in May 2015. 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, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Green Brook Police Department, Elizabeth Police Department, and Elizabeth Fire Department.  

Prior to sentencing, Judge Donohue ruled that a combined total of a dozen aggravating factors applied in the case, but no mitigating factors.

“This was a particularly brutal case. Tanya Worthy was terrorized in the last hour of her life,” Luvera said in arguing for maximum terms, saying the crime reflected a “complete, callous disregard for human life.”

Worthy’s mother and aunt read statements into the record prior to sentencing.