On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Michels, McElroy and J. H. Coleman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
[183 NJSuper Page 465] Defendant Eugene Farr was found guilty by a jury of armed robbery (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1), unlawful possession of a shotgun without first having obtained the requisite firearms purchaser's identification card (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 c(2)) and possession of a shotgun with the purpose of using it unlawfully against another person (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4 a). The trial judge merged defendant's conviction for unlawful possession of the shotgun into his conviction for armed robbery and sentenced him to State Prison for ten years for the armed robbery. That sentence was suspended and defendant was placed on probation for five years.
Defendant was also sentenced to probation for five years for the unlawful possession of a weapon with the intent of using it against another, which probationary term was to run concurrently with the probationary term imposed for armed robbery. As a condition of probation, defendant was to be confined to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center for a period of 90 days with 48 days credit for the time served. Defendant was also fined $2,500, $1,500 of which was to be paid to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board over the first two years of probation. The State appealed from the sentences imposed, and defendant appealed from the judgments of conviction. We consolidated the appeals.
According to the State's proof, in the early hours of November 3, 1979 defendant and two other men were driving around the North Brunswick area. At about 4:30 a.m. David Linder, the driver of the automobile, pulled into the parking lot of an overnight convenience grocery store known as Krauszer's, located on Route 130 in North Brunswick. Linder and defendant donned masks and, carrying shotguns, robbed the store. April Casey, an 18-year-old college student at Douglas College, who was working part-time at Krauszer's, testified that the first man to enter the store wore a bandana over his nose and mouth and carried a shotgun. While she was not entirely certain as to his identity, she believed that she recognized this man as Linder. Linder had been in the store on prior occasions and, in fact, had been in the store twice during the early part of the evening. When Casey said to the masked man: "Are you kidding?", he merely gestured with his weapon towards the cash register. Casey, who was frightened, walked to the cash register. She then noticed another man wearing a green mask and also carrying a shotgun standing at the entrance to the store a few feet from the cash register. This man was defendant. Linder stood by the cash register and pointed the shotgun at Casey. Casey opened the cash register, removed the money from the top drawer and gave it to Linder. Linder then reached into the drawer beneath the register and removed the remaining money.
Linder tried to open the floor safe but was unsuccessful, and since Casey did not have the combination the safe could not be opened. During this entire time defendant stood in the doorway with a shotgun cradled in his arms. Defendant told Linder to "[h]urry up. Come on." The two men then left, taking approximately $150.
As soon as defendant and Linder left the store, Casey called the North Brunswick police and reported the holdup. Sergeant Probst of the North Brunswick Police Department, who was on patrol, responded to the call. While proceeding towards Krauszer's, he observed only one car which was heading in a northerly direction away from the store. He pulled into the left lane, slowed down and turned on his side floodlight which illuminated Linder's automobile as it passed by. Probst became suspicious, turned around and followed the Linder automobile, illuminating the interior thereof with his high beam headlights and top flood light. During the entire time that Probst followed the vehicle, none of the three occupants turned around or looked in the officer's direction. Probst thereupon called for a backup, and eventually pulled over the Linder automobile. When Probst saw Linder getting out of the automobile, he (Probst) immediately went over to Linder's vehicle. From this location, Probst could see the butt of a shotgun lying on the floor in the front of the car. Linder, defendant and Kevin Knox, the other occupant of the automobile, were told not to move. When the backup officer arrived, Probst told defendant and Knox to slide out of the automobile one at a time. After they were all out, Probst examined the interior of the automobile and found two shotguns. The shotgun on the floor in the front of the vehicle was loaded, the second, found on the floor behind the front seat, was unloaded. In addition, a "monster" mask was found on the floor near the front seat where defendant had been seated. A search of Linder's jacket revealed $149.10, as well as a note written by the Krauszer store manager, which had been wrapped around $5.10 and placed in the drawer beneath the cash register.
Defendant was taken to the police station where, according to Detective Mazgai, defendant gave two different statements. In the latter he admitted that he "was the person at Krauszer's door." He denied, however, that he was there for the purpose of being a lookout. Rather, he claimed that Linder told him that "the holdup was a joke as he [Linder] knew the girl," and that Linder had shown him (defendant) that the gun was not loaded before he went in the store. At the conclusion of the proofs, defendant was convicted of all three offenses.
Defendant contends for the first time on this appeal that he was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor was permitted to cross-examine him and to comment during summation about the fact that he was unemployed and had substantial financial obligations on the date that the robbery was committed. The record reveals that defendant testified that he was employed on the date of the armed robbery and had been for 15 years. However, defendant stated that he left his job in order to find work closer to his home in North Jersey. Defendant also testified that he possessed funds on ...