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State v. Brown

Decided: February 25, 1974.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ROGER BROWN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Carton, Seidman and Demos.

Per Curiam

Defendant was indicted for the murder of one Johnson J. Robins. After a trial to a jury, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and his subsequent motion for a new trial was denied. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

On this appeal he asserts a number of grounds, the first of which is that the State failed to prove a prima facie case of murder in the first degree and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.

The State's principal witness was one Unell Andfield, who knew both defendant and the victim, the latter being the father of three of her six children. She testified that the decedent had visited her home briefly late in the afternoon of March 7, 1972, and that soon after he left defendant arrived and she went with him for a drive. Robins, whom they observed in a parked car, followed them, sounding his horn and twice forcing their car to come to a stop off the road. On each occasion she got out and spoke to Robins who, she said, was very angry. He stopped their car again in the same way and this time he walked over to the automobile, called defendant obscene names and tried to open the locked door on the driver's side. Mrs. Andfield, who was standing outside the car, heard a noise like a pistol shot. She observed that the car window where defendant was seated was open. Robins returned to his car and drove away. Mrs. Andfield

said, further, that Robins, a large man, had two weeks before, in her presence, threatened to kill defendant.

The police later found that Robins's car had run off the road into a tree and that he had been taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead as the result of a bullet wound in the left chest area.

Upon being arrested and charged with the homicide, defendant gave the police a voluntary statement, the admissibility of which is not challenged. In it, after describing the events substantially as Mrs. Andfield had done, he stated that Robins came over to the car, said "Nigger, I told you I was going to kill you," and reached into his pocket with his right hand while pulling on the door handle with his left. Defendant stated further that he picked up a pistol he had in the car and fired one shot at Robins, who then returned to his own automobile and drove away. He also said that Robins had threatened his life two weeks before at Mrs. Andfield's home, and that when he went to visit her on the day of the incident he put the pistol in his car "acting on intuition."

Testifying in his own behalf, defendant claimed he became frightened when his car was forced off the road. He thought Robins was going to kill him because of the prior threat, although he also said he did not believe the threat when it was made. He testified further that when he was compelled to stop the third time he took the gun from the glove compartment and put it on the floor. When he fired the shot, he did so, he said, to scare Robins and not to inflict bodily harm upon him.

Although no motion was made at the trial for a judgment of acquittal, defendant now argues that on the evidence presented a reasonable jury could not, as a matter of law, find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant had committed first degree murder. He contends further that the verdict of the jury was against the weight of evidence. We disagree.

We find in the record sufficient evidence of the requisites of first degree murder to have warranted submission

of that issue to the jury and we are satisfied that the jury's verdict, leaving aside the trial judge's charge on self-defense, was not against the weight of the evidence. A reasonable jury could have found defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a ...


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