Henry Harrison was charged with robbery of a paycheck in the amount of $55 (N.J.S.A. 2A:141-1) and being armed (N.J.S.A. 2A:151-5). The jury returned a verdict of guilty of larceny from the person (N.J.S.A. 2A:119-1) on the first count and not guilty on the second count. Defendant was sentenced to a term of 12 months at the Essex County Correction Center. A motion for a new trial was denied.
Defendant appeals, contending that (1) the trial judge erred in refusing to charge the jury on ordinary larceny, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:119-2, (2) the charge on reasonable doubt constituted plain error, (3) the prosecutor made prejudicial statements in his summation which denied
defendant a fair trial, and (4) the prosecutor made an improper reference to defendant's prior criminal record in his opening statement which constituted reversible error.
The alleged victim, Wendell Daniels, testified that he had left a check-cashing facility on Broad Street in Newark where he had attempted to cash a paycheck for $55.02 he had received from his employer and which the check-cashing facility had refused to cash because he did not have proper identification. The check and his Social Security card were placed in an envelope in his inside pocket. On the sidewalk Daniels was approached by a tall man who spoke with a Jamaican accent and who asked Daniels the location of a certain hotel where he said he was supposed to meet a girl. The man asked Daniels to show him to the hotel but Daniels refused, stating that he was in a hurry.
At this point defendant Henry Harrison approached and Daniels suggested to the Jamaican that defendant might be able to help him, whereupon the Jamaican told defendant the story about the girl in the hotel and said that he would pay if Daniels and defendant would show him the way.
The Jamaican promised Daniels $25. He then pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and handed $100 to defendant. Daniels started to walk away but the Jamaican pulled him back. Daniels repeated that he was in a hurry and had to go. He then observed what appeared to be a gun barrel protruding under a newspaper Harrison had draped over his hand. Either the Jamaican or Harrison told Daniels to get into the car parked in front of the check-cashing facility. Daniels slid across the back seat to the driver's side. Harrison got into the driver's seat and the Jamaican sat next to Daniels. The Jamaican took the envelope with the check and Social Security card from Daniels and said that the Social Security card wasn't good enough, that they needed more identification. He then pushed Daniels over and removed Daniels' wallet from his back pocket, took his draft card and threw the wallet back to Daniels.
Daniels stated that the Jamaican did not have a Jamaican accent when he spoke in the automobile. After a short ride, Daniels was permitted to leave the car. He immediately notified the police and on police advice notified his employer to stop payment on the check. On cross-examination Daniels conceded that in a statement given to the police he had said that the incident occurred across the street from the check-cashing facility and that neither the Jamaican nor defendant had verbally threatened him. However, Daniels made it clear that he was afraid because he thought defendant had a gun, admitting, however, that he was not sure whether defendant's newspaper concealed a gun or a pipe.
Daniels' grand jury testimony indicated that he alleged at that time that it was defendant who took his check and Social Security card, not the Jamaican. At trial he insisted, however, that his trial testimony was the truth.
Defendant Harrison testified in his own defense and stated that on the day in question he was visiting one Robert Henry at the Belmont Hotel in Newark, located across the street from the check-cashing facility in front of which the incident here involved occurred. Henry asked defendant if he wanted to make some money and described the "handkerchief game." Thereafter, defendant went to the corner of Broad and West Kinney Streets while Henry proceeded to a spot approximately 100 yards from the check-cashing facility. Neither he nor Henry had a car parked on Broad Street that day.
Harrison stated that Henry stopped Daniels as the latter emerged from the check-cashing facility and spoke to him. Upon a prearranged signal defendant walked in the direction of the pair. As he neared them Daniels stopped him and asked if he knew the location of a certain hotel. Defendant said that he did and began to walk away. Henry displayed a large amount of play money with a real $5 bill on top and offered defendant and Daniels each $10 to help him ...