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Jacob Gentry

Other New Jersey Homicide Exonerations
At about 3 a.m. on August 17, 2008, police were called to the Legends Resort & Country Club in Sussex County, New Jersey, after 36-year-old David Haulmark was found beaten to death in a flowerbed outside the hotel.

Haulmark was one of a number of people working on a pipeline project in New York State in the spring and summer of 2008. The workers were housed at the Legends Resort.

Witnesses said that Haulmark left the hotel bar with 27-year-old Jacob Gentry, Gentry’s girlfriend, Emily Henry, and Gentry’s brother, Jarrod. All three were from Tennessee and were working on the same pipeline as Haulmark. Until a few weeks earlier, they too had been staying at Legends.

Later that day, police arrested the brothers and Henry after Jacob said he had been in a fight with Haulmark outside the hotel. He told police that when they left, Haulmark was on the ground. All three were charged with first-degree murder and endangering a victim of an assault.

Jacob Gentry went to trial in Sussex County Superior Court in May 2011. The prosecutor told the jury in his opening statement that Gentry instigated a fight with Haulmark because his girlfriend, Henry, had told police that Haulmark had made crude gestures and comments to her in the bar. And, the prosecutor said, Henry’s claim was false.

The defense objected to the prosecutor’s comments and asked for a mistrial because Henry was not going to testify and any comments she had made were inadmissible hearsay. The judge denied the motion for a mistrial, but ruled that the prosecution could not make any further mention of Henry’s statement.

A forensic pathologist testified for the prosecution that Haulmark died from a brain hemorrhage as a result of being kicked.

The defense argued that Gentry acted in self-defense. It presented evidence that Gentry, who weighed 155 pounds, was a long-standing target of ridicule and physical attacks by Haulmark, a 235-pound former high school linebacker from Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Several witnesses told the jury that Haulmark had repeatedly harassed and physically attacked Jacob Gentry. Haulmark was among a group of pipeline workers, who made inappropriate advances at Emily Henry.

Gentry told the jury that he had complained to police about Haulmark’s actions, but nothing was done. He described several incidents in which Haulmark and his friends attacked him—once in an elevator and once as they came out of the hotel bar. Gentry said that it got so bad that he asked for hotel security to escort him to his room —a fact confirmed by a hotel security guard.

Gentry told the jury that in July 2008, he and Henry moved out of the hotel and into a house in Port Jervis, New York, even though it was an hour-long commute to the jobsite and his rent rose from $700 to $1,500 per month.

Gentry testified that on August 17, he, Henry, and Jarrod Gentry stopped at Legends to drop off a friend and went into the bar to say hello to the bartenders. Unexpectedly, they ran into Haulmark, who challenged Gentry to a fight. Gentry testified that he accepted, believing he had no choice.

Gentry said he was expecting a fistfight—he and Haulmark had squared off in that manner in the past—but instead Haulmark charged him and tackled him into a raised flowerbed. He said Haulmark clamped his teeth on his right nipple and started choking him.

“He tackled me into that flower bed,” Gentry testified. “He bit me. He was choking me. And I started to fight for my life. And…I fought with everything that I had. I punched him. I elbowed him. I kneed him.”

“And when he was coming back up…I didn’t want him to get back up because he was obviously going to be very angry,” Gentry testified. “And I—I was afraid. And I—I kicked him” in the head.

He said that Henry then sprayed Haulmark with pepper spray and the three of them left, believing that Haulmark was still alive. He said he expected Haulmark to be back at work the next day—a statement he made to the police when first questioned, before he knew that Haulmark had died dead.

In cross-examination, the prosecutor—despite the judge’s ruling—asked Gentry about Henry’s statement to the police that she told Gentry that night that Haulmark was making crude gestures and comments to her. The defense objected and the judge ordered the question stricken from the record. Not long after, the prosecutor asked Gentry whether his brother, Jarrod, helped fight Haulmark and Gentry said he did not.

The prosecutor asked, “Is what you’re telling us here today consistent with your brother’s statement?” The defense again objected and asked for a mistrial. The objection was sustained, but the request for a mistrial was denied.

The following day, with Gentry still on the witness stand, the judge gave the prosecutor permission—over defense objection—to question Gentry about Jarrod’s statement to police prior to their arrest. Police said that Jarrod had admitted taking part in the fight. When Gentry again denied that his brother was involved, the prosecutor asked, “Isn’t it true that Jarrod said that he [was]?” At that point, the judge, following yet another defense objection, ordered the prosecutor to withdraw the question.

Other witnesses testified that Haulmark and his friends called themselves the “pipeline mafia” and were involved in incidents of physical and verbal aggression toward other workers. The manager of the hotel testified that Haulmark was banned from the hotel bar for a month after he threatened to kill her, harm her children, and burn her house down. The night of his death was the first day Haulmark was allowed back into the bar.

A patron of the bar testified—and a security-camera video confirmed—that just before Gentry’s arrival at the bar, Haulmark was hitting another patron in the back of the head in an attempt to provoke him to go outside and fight.

In addition, Jason Ford, another pipeline worker, testified that some time before Haulmark’s death, he told Ford and another worker that he was going to break Gentry’s neck and rape his girlfriend.

During closing argument, Gentry’s defense attorney told the jury that there was no evidence that Jarrod participated in the fight and reminded the jury that what the lawyers said was not evidence.

In rebuttal, the prosecutor announced that there was no evidence of Jarrod’s statement because the trial judge had refused to allow it. The defense objected again, but the judge overruled the objection.

On June 23, 2011, the jury acquitted Gentry of first-degree murder, but convicted him of first-degree aggravated manslaughter and third-degree endangering a victim. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

In September 2011, Jarrod Gentry pled guilty to endangering a victim and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released immediately because he had been in custody more than three years. Emily Henry pled guilty to aggravated assault and endangering a victim and was sentenced to four years in prison. She also was released almost immediately.

In January 2015, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court set aside Gentry’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that the judge had erroneously instructed the jury that self-defense was a defense only to first-degree murder, not aggravated manslaughter. Because the evidence, “viewed favorably to the defense, was sufficient to support a claim of self-defense, that error had the clear capacity to produce an unjust result,” the court declared.

Moreover, the court found that the prosecutor had asked improper questions in his cross-examination of Gentry and made improper comments in his opening statement and is closing argument.

“We conclude that the prosecutor’s questions and summation comments, and the trial court’s ruling permitting the comments, were clearly improper, violated bedrock constitutional principles and constituted prejudicial error,” the appellate court said.

Gentry went to trial a second time in January 2016. He again testified that he was acting in self-defense and had no idea that Haulmark was dead.

The defense, for the first time, called a forensic pathologist, Dr. William Manion. Manion testified that based upon the autopsy report, Haulmark had a blood alcohol content of .124, well over the legal driving limit. Alcohol relaxes the blood vessels and therefore made Haulmark bleed far more profusely, Manion testified.

Haulmark’s head injury was “minor,” Manion said, and did not cause death on its own. “There was no skull fracture, no subdural hematoma, no brain contusions,” Manion said.

On February 18, 2016, the jury acquitted Gentry and he was released.

In February 2017, Gentry filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. He later settled out of court for $225,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/21/2016
Last Updated: 4/24/2019
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No