Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 7
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
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Princeton House Homicide Is First in Area Since 1982

Ellen Gilbert

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the Princeton Township Police Department are investigating a homicide that occurred late Thursday evening at Princeton House, a behavioral health unit of Princeton HealthCare System at 905 Herrontown Road.

The death marks Mercer County’s first homicide in 2010, and the first in Princeton in nearly three decades. In March of 1982 the body of 19-year-old Maura Gottlieb was found on the banks of the Delaware-Raritan Canal. The case remains unsolved.

Township police were called out to Princeton House at approximately 11 p.m. Thursday evening. Upon arrival they found that the victim, 69-year-old James Dunlavy, had been beaten. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The victim’s roommate at Princeton House, 18-year-old Michael Leal of New Brunswick, was taken into custody and charged with murder. His bail was set at $500,000 and he is currently incarcerated in the Mercer County Correction Center. A bail hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 18, in front of Judge Jimenez.

The case is being investigated by Detective Robert Crusen of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and Detective Annette Henderson of the Princeton Township Police Department. The New Jersey State Police Crime Scene Unit processed the scene.

An autopsy performed on Friday found the cause of Mr. Dunlavy’s death to be “massive blunt-force trauma to the head,” according to County Prosecutor Office spokesperson Casey DeBlasio. Investigators have not identified a motive, and Ms. DeBlasio was unsure if either person had a criminal record or why they were residing at Princeton House.

“With courts closed since last Wednesday due to snow, furlough, and Monday’s holiday, I don’t have any updates right now,” said Ms. DeBlasio. “I would expect the defendant to have a bail reconsideration hearing in Superior Court later this week”

“It is such a tragedy when something like this happens,” said Carrier Clinic Chief Operating Officer Mary Pawlikowski. “It has such an impact on the people who work with these individuals.” Carrier is a private, not-for-profit behavioral healthcare system that, like Princeton House, offers in-patient psychiatric services. “We’re not rethinking our policies as a result of the incident at Princeton House,” noted Ms. Pawlikowski. “The way we have our inpatient clinics set up here is according to acuity and age. We’re able to assign patients who come in for in-patient treatment to units that are more homogenous. We have, for example, an adult unit for people aged 65 and older, and an adolescent unit for patients 13 to 18. We feel very confident in the clinical and safety protocols that we have in place.”

In a website posting Princeton House reported that they are “conducting an internal review of policies to ensure we are doing everything possible to maintain safety. Our patients’ safety and well-being continues to be our first priority.”

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