Elizabeth man sentenced to 148 years for “reign of terror”

An Elizabeth man who robbed, psychologically tortured, and sexually assaulted four couples staying at local motels over the course of six weeks in 2012 has been sentenced to an aggregate total of 148 years in state prison for convictions on 60 crimes, Union County First Assistant Prosecutor Albert Cernadas Jr. announced Thursday.

Rasheed Powell, 43, was sentenced by state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch, who described Powell’s crimes as collectively constituting an “incomprehensible hell.”

“Your reign of terror ends here, now,” Kirsch told Powell.

Beginning on Saturday, March 10, 2012, Powell targeted couples checking into motels along U.S. Routes 1&9 in Elizabeth and Linden, according to Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit Supervisor Caroline Lawlor and Assistant Prosecutor Tracy Boyd, who prosecuted the case. Powell would force his way into the motel rooms at night and order the couples to engage in sexual acts at gunpoint, then order the males into the bathroom while he sexually assaulted the females in the adjacent bedroom, also at gunpoint, Lawlor and Boyd said.

Kirsch specified Thursday that the crimes encompassed various forms of sexual assault, as Powell additionally taunted the male victims in the process by forcing the female victims to loudly compliment him, later threatening to kill them and their families if they reported what happened to police.

Using DNA and other forensic evidence, a joint investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Sex Crimes Unit (today known as the Special Victims Unit), the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Linden Police Department, assisted by the Union County Sheriff’s Office and Union County Police Department, resulted in Powell being identified as a suspect in the case. He was arrested on Monday, April 16, 2012 while at Springfield Municipal Court, where he was responding to a traffic summons.

Two of the incidents for which Powell was charged took place at the Swan Motel in Linden, with the others occurring at the Spring Lane Motel and Royal Motel, both in Elizabeth.

Kirsch read one victim’s statement into the record Thursday, while four other victims – two males and two females – spoke for themselves, in person.

“I lost so much of myself, I didn’t even recognize what was left of me,” one victim recounted of the aftermath of Powell’s attack on her and a male companion, then a college sweetheart she would later marry. She further noted that to this day she no longer goes out at night or stays overnight anywhere, adding that she suffered through nightmares, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-mutilation, and suicidal thoughts in the years that followed.

“I’ve always been told that the world is unfair. But I don’t believe that. It is monsters like you who taint the world and make it unfair,” another victim told Powell. “You robbed me of my innocence … but today I can look at you without being afraid.”

Lawlor noted that all of the victims continue to battle various forms of physical and psychological trauma.

“The terror they lived through in those motel rooms stayed with them for years afterward,” she said. “I can think of no more heinous crime than what was inflicted upon these eight individuals.”

Powell, who had six indictable convictions on crimes occurring in three other New Jersey counties prior to 2012, remained jailed on $3 million bail following his arrest. After an eight-week trial before Judge Kirsch and three and a half days of jury deliberations, he was convicted in March 2018 on all charges: 24 counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, 12 counts of second-degree sexual assault, eight counts of first-degree robbery, four counts of second-degree burglary, and 12 related weapons offenses.

Kirsch ordered Thursday that sentences for 12 of the crimes be served consecutively, with the remainder to be served concurrently.

The Prosecutor’s Office would again like to recognize and thank all eight victims and numerous law enforcement representatives, including members of the Prosecutor’s Office’s Forensic Laboratory and two sexual assault nurse examiners with the Union County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), who were among the more than 40 people who testified at trial.

The Prosecutor’s Office would also like to acknowledge all of those who directly participated in the investigation and prosecution of the case, including Office Lt. Patricia Gusmano and Detective Jennifer Smith, Elizabeth Police Department Detectives Benny Carvalho and James DiOrio (retired), and Linden Police Department Detective Dave Dehler (retired).