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New Jersey State Parole Board v. Cestari

Decided: April 20, 1988.


On appeal from New Jersey State Parole Board.

Pressler, Muir, Jr. and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.


In 1982, appellant Carl Cestari, a 23 year old member of the Roselle police department, resigned to join the Army. At a farewell party given for him by his fellow officers, a bizarre incident occurred in which Cestari shot another police officer. As a result, Cestari was convicted of reckless manslaughter, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b)(1), and sentenced to a custodial term of nine years, with a three year parole ineligibility term mandated by the Graves Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(c). Upon the expiration of the parole ineligibility term, Cestari became eligible for parole. Under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.53, the Parole Board was required to grant him parole unless it found "by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that the inmate will commit a crime under the laws of this State if released." Despite the fact that Cestari had led a completely law abiding life except for the single incident resulting in his conviction and that three out of the four mental health professionals who evaluated him issued favorable reports, the Adult Panel of the Parole Board found there was a substantial likelihood he would commit another crime if released, and thus denied parole. We conclude that this finding was arbitrary and capricious, and therefore we reverse.

Cestari was convicted on November 4, 1982 and sentenced on December 6, 1982. However, he remained free on bail prior to trial and pending appeal. Consequently, he did not begin serving his sentence until May 21, 1984, after this court had affirmed his conviction in an unreported opinion, State v. Cestari, A-1450-82T4, and the Supreme Court had denied certification,

97 N.J. 600 (1984). Thus, his initial parole eligibility date was May 21, 1987.

Dr. Larry Seifer, a psychological consultant, submitted a report to the Parole Board on September 25, 1986, which stated that Cestari's ". . . mood, affect, insight, judgment and orientation were all appropriate." He also found that Cestari was not "clinically ill" and was not a "custodial risk." Dr. Seifer concluded that Cestari's ". . . offense was situational with little chance of reoccurrence" and therefore that his chances for success on parole were "good."

The preparole reports submitted to the Parole Board by the Department of Corrections were highly favorable to Cestari in all respects. These reports stated that he had not committed any institutional disciplinary infractions, that he had done exceptionally well in his work assignments, and that he got along well with staff and fellow inmates.

On November 7, 1986, Cestari was interviewed at an initial parole hearing by hearing officer John West of the Parole Board. Based upon the preparole reports and the interview, the hearing officer recommended that Cestari be paroled at the earliest possible date. He commented as follows:

There is no prior record, no exposure to community service and supervision. Good parole plans, good institutional adjustment, good previous employment, good attitude. I believe subject will succeed. If he does not, I don't think anyone would ever feel safe in paroling another inmate. He represents no danger in any way.

In preparation for his release on parole, Cestari was transferred in January 1987 to "Pyramid House," a halfway house in

Essex County. While in this facility, he was employed through a work release program in a delicatessen where he worked as a clerk, deliveryman and cook.

Cestari was also sent to Catholic Community Services, Division of Mental Health, Mount Carmel Guild, located in Newark, for evaluations by a psychiatrist and a psychologist, both of whom issued favorable reports. Based on the evaluations contained in these reports, the Division of Mental Health of Catholic Community Services reported to Pyramid House on April 22, 1987 that Cestari had ". . . adjusted well and Mental Health Services will not be needed at this time."

Around the same time as Cestari was being evaluated at Catholic Community Services, the Parole Board also had him evaluated by another psychologist, Frederic Rotgers, who reported in part as follows:

Mr. Cestari's MMPI profile was completely within normal limits, although elevated to almost clinical significance, with the exception of his score on the K scale, an indicator of openness and willingness to acknowledge weakness. Persons who score very high on this scale find it quite difficult to acknowledge any weakness or personal problems, rather tending to attempt to maintain an appearance of adequacy, control and effectiveness. These individuals tend to be quite impaired in their ability to become emotionally close to and empathize with others as they are terrified of revealing weakness. In addition, Mr. Cestari's performance on the Subtle-Obvious items, items which either are quite clearly on their face indicative of pathology as opposed to having little apparent, but a strong actual relationship to pathology, suggests that he purposely and consciously avoided answering these items in a pathological direction. Thus, while the average normal will answer 31 of 146 of these items in the pathological direction, Mr. Cestari answered only 7 of them in the pathological direction. This suggests conscious avoidance of admitting pathology.

Clinically, given Mr. Cestari's obvious attempt to deny problems on the MMPI his profile is a significant one. Although just below the level for clinical significance, the pattern of elevations of scales is consistent with a person who is quite hostile and angry, but maintains a facade of normalcy that is quite prone to deterioration under stress leaving the individual prone to inexplicable aggression. These individuals tend to be quite out of touch with their feelings until they become too strong to deny or until their controls are weakened by alcohol. Although they appear quite socially appropriate outwardly, they are inwardly quite rebellious, sensitive to rejection, and prone to outbursts of hostility when criticized. They are quite self-centered, narcissistic and grandiose.

They often deny psychological problems of any sort and express a very naive, pollyannaish, black and white attitude toward the world.

Overall, the results of this evaluation suggest that Mr. Cestari has significant problems intrapsychically that he has become adept at covering up to a great degree. Unfortunately, the full story of what happened immediately prior to and during the incident in which Mr. Cestari killed his "best friend" may never be clearly known. However, one might hypothesize that Mr. Cestari had felt rejected in some way by the victim, and being out of touch with his feelings, had proposed unconsciously, a "play" in which he could express his angry feelings without directly taking responsibility for the outcome. He still does not do so, nor is he likely to without extensive, probing, insight oriented psychotherapy on at least a twice weekly basis for many years. Unfortunately without evidence of some progress toward coming to grips with the personality factors that led to the offense, Mr. Cestari must still be considered to have the potential to become involved in a violent incident in the future. Perhaps he recognizes this at some level and used the police, marshall [ sic ] arts training, and prospectively, the rangers as a means of trying to provide himself with appropriate controls and settings for expression of his anger. Unfortunately, this anger still appears to lie beneath the surface, and Mr. Cestari has done nothing to address it.*fn1

The Adult Panel of the Parole Board conducted a hearing with respect to Cestari's release on parole on August 25, 1987. Only Cestari testified at the hearing. The members of the Panel questioned Cestari primarily on the circumstances of the offense. He related that the shooting occurred at a farewell party given for him upon his resignation from the police department to enter the Army. The party was attended primarily by police officers, many of whom had their handguns with them. Many of the officers also consumed considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages. Sometime during the evening, the victim John Maiorella, who had been Cestari's partner on the police force, suggested to Cestari that they have photographs taken of them. Cestari, Maiorella, the photographer, and several other officers went to the basement of ...

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