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Englewood man serving 28 years for raping ex rejects plea, headed to trial for assaulting son

Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia

ONLY ON CVP: An Englewood hair products entrepreneur who was sentenced last month to 28 years without parole for raping his former girlfriend rejected a plea deal and is headed to trial on charges of choking his son and slashing him with a knife — even though prosecutors said he could serve a flat five-year sentence at the same time.

If convicted of assaulting his then-16-year-old son in November 2013, James McDowell could be get 20 years — “in essence, based on your age, a life sentence,” Presiding Superior Court Liliana DeAvila-Silebi told him Friday.

“Do you still want to go to trial?” she asked McDowell, 53.

“Take it!” family members who attended the hearing shouted.

James McDowell (STORY / PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

“Yes, I do,” McDowell said, ignoring them.

Defense attorney Markis Abraham held a brief, terse whispered conversation with him, but McDowell — also known as Sisa Butu — insisted he wanted to take his chances at a trial.

“This is the last date the five years is available,” the judge told him. “So if you decided to plead guilty on the day of trial, the five years is no longer available. You would do this sentence at the same time as your current sentence, and it would not affect your appeal. There would be no additional time, do you understand that?”

“Yes,” McDowell said.

DeAvila-Silebi set May 18 trial date and said the case will take priority over any other case in that time period. Not counting jury selection, it’s expected to take five days.

It will be the final trial for Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Catherine Fantuzzi, who is retiring as chief of her office’s Special Victims Unit on June 1 after 28 years on the job.

McDowell was admitted to South Woods State Prison in Cumberland County after being sentenced March 18 for confining, threatening and repeatedly raping a former lover in an incident that forced a SWAT team to tear-gas his house in September 2010.

Superior Court Judge James J. Guida cited several factors for the sentence — including that McDowell was convicted of terrorizing his victim with a loaded .357 Magnum while making degrading comments about women, calling them “bitches” who should “know their place and keep their mouths shut.”

Jurors last July convicted McDowell of eight counts from a 15-count indictment, including first-degree aggravated sexual assault, false imprisonment and weapons possession.

He was acquitted of kidnapping, criminal restraint, and six counts of sexual assault during a kidnapping.

McDowell, insisting on his innocence, appealed the verdict.

Although he had no previous convictions, McDowell had been arrested at least a dozen times as an adult, Fantuzzi said. Charges have included perjury, being a fugitive, and child endangerment, records show.

After running a popular chain of hair braiding salons in Brooklyn, McDowell began distributing hair care products under the name SBXtreme “for the multicultural hair care market,” according to company information.

His former girlfriend testified during the trial that she had gone to see her dentist in Jersey City and was planning to visit her father in Irvington when she swung by his Tryon Avenue home .

He’d told her he wasn’t feeling well, said the woman, who now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband.

After going out to lunch, she said, they had some drinks at the house and watched music videos. She said she was preparing to leave because her husband would be expecting her when things got ugly. READ MORE….

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Catherine Fantuzzi,
James McDowell, defense attorney Markis Abraham
(STORY / PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

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