[174 NJSuper Page 403] Following a five-week jury trial, defendant was convicted of 16 counts, including charges of willful, deliberate and premeditated murder, felony murder in connection with a robbery, felony murder in connection with a rape, armed robbery, rape, and assorted associated charges, including assault and possession of weapons. All of the charges relate to a single episode insofar as they relate to the same victim, but relate to more than one
episode in that they relate to a number of separate and distinct acts. At issue before the court is the question as to which counts merge.
During the trial the jury was presented with two versions of the events which formed the basis of the charges against defendant. Included in the State's evidence was an eight-page statement made by defendant at the time of his arrest which set forth a description and chronology of events with exquisite detail. This statement, corroborated with numerous real and circumstantial evidence, formed the basis of the State's case and, if believed, contained within it proof of each and every element of each and every count of the indictment.
At the trial the jury heard a different version from defendant. In his testimony defendant attributed all of the crimes charged in the indictment to other named individuals, although in the course of his in-court statement he openly admitted the existence of facts which would warrant a finding of guilty to the crime of felony murder in connection with robbery on the basis of his own participation as an aider and abettor.
By finding defendant guilty of all 16 counts in the indictment, the jury accepted defendant's original eight-page statement to the police at the time of his arrest as the true and correct recital of the events which led to the death of the victim, Mrs. Pecker.
At about 1 p.m. on January 9, 1979 Laura Pecker, a 45-year-old married woman, entered a one-family residence at 20 Clendenny Avenue, Jersey City, where defendant Joseph Stenson, age 20, resided with his mother. Mrs. Pecker worked for the Avon Company and came to the Stenson home in the apparent belief that she was soliciting a prospective seller of Avon products. Stenson, a nighttime security guard who lived with his mother, a Staten Island hospital employee, described the enticement thusly:
I called the number and spoke to a woman and told her my name was Miss Tyler and I wanted to sell Avon Products. She said sure, I will get back to you. Then she sent me one of them small postcards telling me to come to some place and if
I couldn't make it they would call me back after the holidays. She did and said she would come to my house at 1 p.m. I cant remember the day or the date. But that is the day that she came.
When she arrived at the house that day he let her in and after a short charade in which he said he was going to get his mother, he seized a knife and told her he wanted money. Thereafter, he hit her, stripped her, raped her and then struck her "about twelve times" with a stick which he described as being a bit thicker than a mop handle and about a yard long, bludgeoning her to death. His description of this beating, which resulted in multiple skull fractures, subdural and epidural hematomas, and lacerations and contusions of the brain, is fully and completely corroborated by the photographs of the victim which show the destruction of her skull, bruises to her breasts, and bruises on her arms where she sought vainly to protect her head against the vicious attack. Following the rape, the theft and the murder, Stenson wrapped the body in sheets, carried it and placed it in the rear of ...