The Manalapan man accused of fatally punching a 78-year-old outside an Ocean County diner last week was ordered released from jail on Thursday morning pending his trial.
Edward Chandler, 54, is charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of Robert Clarke, of Whiting.
Chandler struck Clarke in the face during an argument between motorcycle club members in the parking lot of the Lakeside Diner in Lacey Township, causing Clarke to fall to the ground, hit his head and later die, authorities said. One of Clarke’s friends started the dispute over being kicked out of a motorcycle group called the “Wawa Crew.” Clarke was also a member.
Chandler’s attorney Robin Lord said her client poses no danger to the community if released and was defending others when he punched Clarke. She said her client has been “significantly overcharged.”
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by police, Chandler hit Clarke because he heard someone yell “knife” during the argument and saw Clarke walking toward one of his friends. Chandler admitted to police afterward that he did not see a knife, police said.
“Not only is this involving just one punch that unfortunately resulted in the death of the gentleman, but this was a defense of others, which is an absolute defense under out criminal justice system,” Lord said. “The victim was to (Chandler’s) left, his friend was to the right. He heard the word ‘knife’ and he saw the victim charging in the direction of his friend who had his back toward the victim.”
Lord read small excerpts from letters written by Chandler’s friends and family in support of his release.
“His sole purpose was not malicious, it wasn’t to hurt, it wasn’t to malign, it wasn’t to cause serious bodily injury,” Lord said. “It was simply to stop and prevent him from going to his friend… Unfortunately it resulted in the tragic death of the victim in this case and he does have significant remorse for that.”
Assistant Prosecutor Genna Moscato said there were several witnesses to the incident and the investigation determined Clarke’s death was a homicide as a result of Chandler punching him in the face.
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“The weight of the evidence is strong,” Moscato said. “Second to murder, there are no greater charges than the one he is currently facing.”
Clarke, a retired pool repairman, was airlifted to a hospital and died six hours after Chandler punched him, authorities said. He was an honorary member of the Blue Knights’ Ocean County chapter since 1983 and more recently joined the “Wawa Crew,” a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who hang out outside the Wawa in Whiting. His family has called for an end to “senseless violence.”
Chandler was released with monitoring. His next court appearance is Dec. 2.