Plainfield man sentenced to 48 years for fatal shooting of innocent bystander

A Plainfield man has been sentenced to 48 years in state prison for playing the key role in the 2016 gang-related shooting death of an innocent bystander, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo announced Tuesday.

Shaquille Spruiel, 26, must serve at least 85 percent of that sentence before the possibility of parole under the terms set down Friday by Union County Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch. 

Shortly after 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, 2016, Plainfield Police Division patrol units responding to a report of gunshots rushed to the Liberty Village housing complex in the area of West 4th and Liberty streets and found the victim, 37-year-old Willie Lee Major, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

An investigation led by the Union County Homicide Task Force and Sgt. Danika Ramos, assisted by the Plainfield Police Division, Union County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, and Union County Police Department Ballistics Unit, resulted in Spruiel and a second defendant, 21-year-old Diniek Forbes, being identified as suspects, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutors Colleen Ruppert and Michael D’Agostino, who prosecuted the case.

The investigation revealed that the shooting occurred as an element of a long-simmering feud between two gangs operating in Plainfield’s West End – specifically, out of retaliation for a still-unsolved fatal shooting that had taken place in Plainfield a little more than two weeks prior, Ruppert and D’Agostino said. Video evidence indicated that Spruiel fired the shot that killed Major.

Forbes was arrested in June 2016, and Spruiel was located and taken into custody in Georgia a month later. The pair were indicted in December 2016, and in December 2018, Forbes pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated manslaughter.

Following a nearly month-long trial before Judge Kirsch that ended in June 2019, a Union County jury convicted Spruiel on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and two related weapons offenses.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Kirsch described the crime as a burst of senseless violence suddenly disrupting an idyllic setting, as numerous residents of the housing complex were spending time outside on a pleasant spring evening when gunshots rang out.

“People were milling about, talking to neighbors, kids around … and then it was a scene out of the Wild West,” Kirsch said. “He (Spruiel) sprayed this congested area with gunfire without a shred of appreciation or concern for victims … and removed (Major) from the world unceremoniously.”

Ruppert said Major was born premature and spent his first six months of life in a hospital, but grew up to make an enormous positive impression on the Liberty Village community with a sense of unflappable affability. His reputation became immediately apparent to investigators, she added, when they received “overwhelming” cooperation from neighborhood witnesses.

“Willie Lee Major was a fixture in his community,” she said. “He was beloved.”