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State v. Cox

Decided: June 24, 1968.


Conford, Collester and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Labrecque, J.A.D.


[101 NJSuper Page 472] Defendant Elijah Cox, Jr. appeals from his conviction under indictments for conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S. 2 A:98-1; armed robbery, N.J.S. 2 A:141-1 and 151-5; kidnapping, N.J.S. 2 A:118-1; assault and battery upon a police officer, N.J.S. 2 A:90-4, and larceny of an automobile, N.J.S. 2 A:119-2. James Hickman and Alfred Cooper were jointly indicted with him but separately tried.

On the armed robbery indictment defendant was sentenced to a term of from 16 to 25 years in State Prison. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of from one to three years for conspiracy, five to seven years for assault and battery upon a police officer and five to seven years for larceny, and to a term of from 30 to 40 years for kidnapping, to run consecutively with the prior sentences.

The indictments arose out of a train of events which began with the holdup of a service station in Cinnaminson Township on September 28, 1966. On the evening of that day, as the service station attendant was preparing to close for the night, he was held up at gunpoint by two men who relieved him of $5 and forced him to open the cash register from which they abstracted $100. Their movements aroused the suspicions of Sergeant William Peters of the Cinnaminson police who was passing by, and he drove in and stopped by the gas pumps. The holdup men, not realizing that it was a police officer, at first told the attendant to go out and wait on the customer. With this he ran out, shouting, and ducked behind a car, whereupon the two holdup men ran out towards the rear of the building. As Peters followed, the two men were joined by another as they made for a 1961 Ford (later identified as belonging to Cox) which was parked there. There was an exchange of gunfire, Peters' first shot hitting and dropping one of the men as he stood by the front door of the Ford preparatory to getting into the front seat. His second shot broke a rear window and his third shot struck one of the men who was in the rear. As Peters came close, the wounded man on the ground passed something to the wounded man in the rear seat, who thereupon opened fire shattering Peters' right arm. Peters returned the fire but was in turn shot in the neck, shoulder and head and finally collapsed. As a result, he lost the sight of his left eye, had only partial use of his right arm and faced the prospect (a 90% chance) that he would have to undergo another operation on his arm.

In the meantime, a Mrs. Evelyn Paulson, driving by in her 1964 Chevrolet, had observed the wounded officer and, thinking it was an accident, stopped. With this the three men came over to her car and one of them, upon being refused entrance, broke a window vent with a metal object and opened the door. One of them then pushed her to the side and got behind the wheel while the other two got into the rear. They drove the car to Camden where it was abandoned after they had relieved her of $8, tied her hands with a plastic rain hat, gagged her with a handkerchief and told her to lie down in the back seat on pain of death. She later freed herself and told her story to the police.

The fact that the car abandoned at the service station was registered and licensed in the name of Cox led to a search of his apartment. The search yielded a coat and undergarments which contained what appeared, and were later testified, to be blood stains and bullet holes. Glass found in a pocket of defendant's sport coat was matched to that in the window of Cox's car, and a spent bullet found in another pocket of the same coat bore indications that it had been discharged from Peters' service revolver.

Subsequent to the holdup Cox borrowed a friend's car, presumably to move some boxes. It was not returned and was subsequently found, abandoned, in Washington, D.C. Cox was not located until nine months later, when he was picked up in Detroit under an alias. At that time he bore scars from bullet wounds on his neck, stomach and hip. In a statement given there he denied that he had actually participated in the attempted holdup but stated that he had waited in the car while Hickman and Cooper got out, presumably to get whisky. In the statement he denied possessing a gun and asserted that it was Hickman and Cooper who had stopped Mrs. Paulson. At the trial Peters identified Cox as one of the men he had seen enter the gas station on the night of the holdup and as the one who had first fired at him from the rear of the car.

Defendant did not take the stand. His wife testified, over objection, that Hickman had told her that he (Hickman)

had shot Peters and Cox "didn't know nothing what was going on."

By his first point defendant challenges the sentences as manifestly excessive. In substance, he argues that the indictments against him involved but one episode, the robbery, and that the sentences imposed by virtue thereof should have been made concurrent rather than consecutive. More specifically, he contends that since the kidnapping was merely part of the "getaway" following the robbery, the imposition of consecutive sentences was a clear abuse of discretion.

The rule is well settled that the quantum of the sentence imposed, if within the limits fixed by law, is a matter within the discretion of the sentencing judge. While such exercise of discretion on the part of the trial judge is reviewable on appeal, and, if found to be a mistaken exercise thereof, may be corrected (by way of revision or remand for resentencing), State v. Johnson, 67 N.J. Super. 414, 432, 170 A. 2 d 830 (App. Div. 1961), the power of the court to do so should be exercised with extreme care and only in cases where the sentence is clearly found to be unduly punitive. State v. Gibbs, 79 N.J. Super. 315, 325, 191 A. 2 d 495 (App. Div. 1963). In determining whether the sentences violated that standard we must consider them in the light ...

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