Elizabeth man sentenced to 30 years for robbery-turned-killing of veteran headed to work

Robert Rouse (victim of crime)
Robert Rouse (victim of crime)

An Elizabeth man who fatally shot his neighbor during the course of a robbery on Halloween in 2016 has been sentenced to 30 years in state prison for the crime, acting Union County Prosecutor Jennifer Davenport announced Friday.

Jimmy Kearney, 20, must serve the full 30 years before becoming eligible for parole under the terms set down by state Superior Court Judge William Daniel. 

Elizabeth Police Department patrol units responded to the 400 block of Walnut Street in Elizabeth shortly before 6 a.m. on Monday, October 31, 2016 to find the body of 61-year-old Robert Rouse, who was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Armando Suarez, who prosecuted the case.

An intensive joint investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force, Union County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Unit, Elizabeth Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, and Union County Police Department Ballistics Unit quickly resulted in Kearney being identified as a suspect, and he was arrested without incident hours later, lodged in Union County Jail on $750,000 bail, Suarez said. Kearney was indicted in March 2017 and pleaded guilty to a charge of felony murder in March 2019.

The investigation revealed that after initially following and assaulting Rouse – a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had served in Vietnam, and was on his way to the downtown Elizabeth train station to commute to his job at a factory in neighboring Middlesex County – Kearney ran to his nearby home, retrieved a handgun, returned to where the victim was laying prone in the street, and shot him in the neck, fatally injuring him before going through his pockets.

Following the execution of a search warrant at Kearney’s home, the victim’s blood-stained backpack and the murder weapon, a .45-caliber handgun, were recovered from the defendant’s bedroom, and a subsequent search of a storm drain near the scene of the crime turned up the victim’s wallet, identification cards, credit cards, and train and bus tickets. 

Kearney also was wearing sneakers found to have the victim’s DNA on them at the time of his arrest.

“Mr. Rouse was a working man, a man doing everything he was supposed to be doing … (and) leading a productive life,” Suarez said during Friday morning’s sentencing hearing. “And for a few dollars and a backpack with Mr. Rouse’s (personal items) and his lunch, that’s what he lost his life over. The lack of value for human life can’t be overstated.”

Three members of Rouse’s family spoke prior to sentencing, including two sisters and his only child, a 35-year-old son who shares his name.

“I’m glad I got to see him that day,” the younger Rouse said, referring to watching football on television with his father the day before he died. “But I didn’t know it would be the last time.”

Judge Daniel noted that Kearney will also be subject to five years of parole supervision upon release, and he ordered that Kearney repay the Rouse family restitution in the amount of the victim’s funeral costs.                       

“This was a horrific crime,” Daniel said, “and a wonderful family man is no longer here because of it.”