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Teen gets 10 years in failed New Jersey murder plot

Jonathan Wald

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Crime, Law and Justice

(CNN) -- The teenager behind a failed killing spree in Oaklyn, New Jersey, was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison.

Matthew Lovett, now 19, said he is "dreadfully sorry" for his part in the incident last summer that evoked memories of the Columbine school massacre.

Lovett and his two accomplices, Cody Jackson and Christopher Olson, both now 15, were arrested in a suburb of Philadelphia on July 6 after a botched carjacking attempt. The three were armed with rifles, shotguns, swords, knives and about 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

Prosecutors said the three had spent several months planning to hijack a vehicle, execute three classmates and kill people at random throughout the borough of Oaklyn.

Lovett admitted in court that he used a firearm to threaten the motorist in the attempted hijacking, prosecutors said. The driver sped away and alerted Oaklyn police.

Authorities said Lovett supplied the weapons and the plan. "Undeniably, each of the juveniles was led astray by the older, more mature Lovett," said assistant prosecutor Joshua Ottenberg.

At Thursday's sentencing Lovett said the three teenagers had a change of heart after approaching the motorist. "We decided to go home, back to my house. We realized we were in the wrong. We were just stupid," Lovett said. "It was more fantasy than anything."

Lovett was the last of the three co-defendants to cut a plea bargain with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in December to carjacking in return for prosecutors dropping the other charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and weapons violations. If convicted of all charges Lovett could have faced up to 50 years in prison.

Jackson is serving a five-year prison sentence for carjacking and Olson is serving four years for possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.

Capt. Rich Minardi of the Camden County Prosecutors' Office called Lovett's sentence "appropriate."

Lovett was initially too nervous to speak at the sentencing, but after encouragement from the judge he answered questions from his lawyer, Minardi said.

Lovett told the court he wanted to spend his time in prison learning to help others and he may eventually become a counselor for distressed teens.

Two letters from families of the intended victims were read at the sentencing. One set of parents wrote, "We didn't and still don't have any understanding or logical explanation for why Matt Lovett did what he did. But because of his thinking and actions that morning, he has victimized at least two families. We had trouble sleeping, eating, and functioning."

"It is a bizarre set of fortunate circumstances that thwarted Matthew Lovett's plans. In Chris Ferrari's [chief of the Oaklyn Police Department] words: 'The right people, in the right place at the right time,' that's what stopped the carnage that would have happened."

Lovett will not be eligible for parole until he has served eight and a half years of his sentence, prosecutors said.

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