On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.
Seidman, Michels and Furman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, J.A.D.
Defendant Roger Stillwell was indicted on August 6, 1977 by the Ocean County grand jury and charged with murdering his father, Daniel Stillwell, Sr., on June 23, 1971. Apparently, the local police, although suspecting that defendant had killed his father, had insufficient evidence on which to make an arrest until six years later when immunity was granted to Dennis Mitchell Iagulli (Iagulli), who was with him when the homicide occurred.
According to the State's proofs, on Wednesday, June 23, 1971, defendant and Iagulli went to a local bar in New Egypt, New Jersey. While at the bar defendant told Iagulli that he had to see his father and asked Iagulli to wait at the bar for him. Defendant went to his father's house and, according to a neighbor, Thomas Fields, defendant asked his father for five dollars to buy food, and defendant's father replied that defendant "wasn't getting any money; if he wanted food, to go inside the house and get what he wanted." Defendant returned to the bar and told Iagulli that he went to see his father about borrowing some money. He also told Iagulli that his father would not give him any money but just told him that he could have all the food that he wanted in the house. Thereafter, defendant and Iagulli left the bar and defendant asked Iagulli if he "wanted to go along with stealing some money from his father." Iagulli refused at first, but then agreed to be the lookout while defendant would steal the money. The plan was for Iagulli to watch the neighbor's house for the return of defendant's father. They
drove towards the father's house; however, when they were near, defendant said, that "[i]t's too light to go in now. Let's go back to the bar and try later." They drove by the house and returned to the bar. After they finished one beer they drove back to defendant's father's house. Defendant turned off the lights of the car as he approached the house, drove into the driveway and parked the car. Iagulli thought defendant's father was home and said, "Let's get out of here." Defendant, however, refused to go and said, "[M]aybe I can talk him out of some money." Defendant then knocked on the door and eventually his father opened the door and let them into the house.
The father asked defendant why he had returned and defendant responded that he came to get some money. Defendant's father refused to give him any money and made a disparaging remark about Iagulli, referring to him as a "drunken bum," and told Iagulli that he wanted him out of the house. Iagulli started to walk towards the door and as he did so defendant's father put his hand on Iagulli and started pushing him out the door. Defendant, who was sitting at the kitchen table, jumped up and said, "[H]ey, that's my friend you are pushing," and moved towards his father. Defendant's father then pushed Iagulli out of the house and slammed the door behind him. Iagulli went over to defendant's car and sat on the front fender. While there he heard defendant and his father arguing, followed by sounds of a struggle and a loud crash. He ran to the house, looked in the window and saw two people struggling. He saw one of them fall and then saw the other raise his hand over his head and swing something down at the person on the floor. When he saw the person standing swing again at the one on the floor he walked towards the back door. Defendant came running out of the house, pushed Iagulli aside and said, "Come on. Let's get the hell out of here." The two men got into the car and Iagulli asked defendant what had happened. Defendant said that he had gotten into a fight with his father and that he had taught his father a lesson. Defendant showed Iagulli a wrench and said, "This is what I hit him with . . . I hit him hard enough to knock him down." Defendant said, "Let's go back to the bar . . . I think I need a drink."
Defendant and Iagulli drove back to the bar. Iagulli bought a six-pack of beer and thereafter they drove around. Defendant said to Iagulli, "I hope I didn't hit him hard . . . I didn't mean to hit him hard," and remarked that maybe they should go back to his father's house and check to see how he was. When they returned to the house Iagulli stayed in the car and defendant went into the house. Iagulli could see defendant bend over, then stand up and then walk towards the back bedrooms, disappearing behind the wall. Iagulli then got out of the car and went into the house. He saw defendant's father lying facedown on the floor, covered with blood. Iagulli noticed the father's hands were stretched out. Iagulli heard him moan, became frightened and ran out of the house. Iagulli then again observed defendant in the kitchen bending over his father. Defendant left the house, carrying something long. He subsequently told Iagulli that he had taken his father's wallet, ring, watch and rifle.
They returned to the car. Defendant put the long object in the back seat and said to Iagulli, "I didn't mean to hit him that hard . . . I hit him hard enough to kill him." As they were driving away defendant looked at Iagulli and said "you are in this as deep as I am . . . you were there . . . that makes you an accomplice," and "if I go to jail, you are going too." Finally, defendant told Iagulli, "but don't worry about it, . . . I made it look like a robbery . . . I took some things out of the house."
Defendant drove to a wooded area. Defendant threw the wrench in the woods and then they discussed an alibi, agreeing that they would say they had been at the bar all night. They returned to the bar, bought a case of beer and drove to Iagulli's house. While driving back defendant said to Iagulli, "I didn't mean to do it, but he should have never hit me. He should have never punched me." While they were sitting on the front porch of Iagulli's home, defendant said to Iagulli, "I killed him. I showed him . . . he'll never hit me again."
On the following day, defendant's father was found dead, lying on his back on the kitchen floor. ...