On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County.
Michels, Muir and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
Tried to a jury, defendant Joseph M. Spann, a corrections officer at the Salem County Jail, was convicted of second degree sexual assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c and third degree official misconduct in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2. Defendant's motions for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial, were denied. Thereafter, the trial court merged defendant's conviction for official misconduct into his conviction for sexual assault, committed defendant to the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections for a term of six years and assessed a penalty of $30 payable to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board. Defendant appeals.
The record shows that on December 13, 1985, Carmen Guzman (Guzman) was placed in the Salem County Jail on a detainer from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Guzman, a native of the Dominican Republic, faced deportation hearings in Philadelphia because she had committed a federal narcotics offense. Defendant and codefendant Anita Sistrunk (Sistrunk) were employed as corrections officers at the Salem County Jail at the time of Guzman's incarceration.
Male and female inmates at the Salem County Jail are housed in different sections of the facility. The female section of the jail is located on the third floor and consists of, among other things, a dormitory, a security room and a room for the on-duty female corrections officer. This section is supervised by female corrections officers. It is separated from the male section by two security doors that are locked at all times to ensure that the male inmates and the male corrections officers are kept apart from the female inmates.
Generally, male corrections officers, other than the shift supervisor, are allowed inside the female section of the jail only in the event of an emergency situation, such as an inmate fight. Access to the female section may be gained only at the allowance of the on-duty female corrections officer or by use of a
pass key that is located in the jail's control room. The control room is manned by the shift sergeant, who is responsible for supervising the entire jail, including both the male and female sections.
Guzman first encountered defendant in the jail's cafeteria a few days after she arrived at the jail. At this time, defendant passed a note to Guzman containing his telephone number and a request that Guzman call him. (A telephone capable of handling only outgoing collect calls was located in Guzman's dormitory.) Guzman and defendant frequently spoke to each other on the telephone and exchanged photographs and love letters. Many of these exchanges were made by way of Sistrunk. Defendant also passed to Guzman, by way of Sistrunk, a cassette tape of Latin music.
On the night of January 25, 1986, Sistrunk, who was on duty in the female section of the jail, brought Guzman from her dormitory to the security room that was adjacent to the dormitory. After escorting Guzman into the room, Sistrunk departed, switching off the lights and closing the door as she left. Thereafter, defendant emerged from an anteroom in the security room. Guzman testified that she was surprised and concerned about this situation because she had been unaware that she was to be brought to the security room and because, as she put it, she was a prisoner and defendant was a guard.
Defendant, who was wearing his guard uniform, approached Guzman, touched her shoulder and attempted to kiss her on the mouth. Guzman, however, pushed defendant away. Thereafter, defendant motioned for Guzman to remove her robe because he wanted her "to make love with him." Guzman testified that she was afraid because she believed that, "under the circumstances," she would have to give in to defendant. Eventually, defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with Guzman. Afterwards, defendant knocked on the door three times and Sistrunk escorted Guzman back to her dormitory.
Guzman testified that she neither screamed nor fought off defendant because she simply wanted to get out of jail and "didn't want any scandals." She stated that she didn't report the incident at the time because defendant twice warned her against such action. Guzman testified that she had not had sexual intercourse with anyone other than defendant during her incarceration. Finally, Guzman stated that a few days after the alleged sexual assault, Sistrunk brought her into an office, where defendant, who was in uniform, told her to destroy the letters, photograph and cassette tape that he had given to her.
Sometime after the incident, Guzman experienced stomach pains and headaches and was unable to eat. She was tested by the jail physician and informed that she was pregnant. Guzman's child was born on October 10, 1986.
Defendant and Sistrunk, on the other hand, painted an entirely different picture of the circumstances of their employment at the Salem County Jail. Defendant contended that he met Guzman in the end of December 1985, as he helped her remove some luggage from an elevator. He stated that he was never alone with Guzman and that he and Guzman passed notes to each other by leaving them on the table in the cafeteria. He also stated that he never kissed, hugged or made physical contact with Guzman. Although defendant was on duty on January 25, 1986, he stated that he did not have the key to the female section, did not go to the third floor of the jail and did not have sexual relations with Guzman. Finally, defendant claimed that he could not be the father of the child born to Guzman on October 10, 1986, because he has been unable to obtain an erection since prior to 1985. Sistrunk contended that she did not set up an encounter between defendant and Guzman and that she never passed letters between the two. Sistrunk stated that she was in charge of the female section on January 25, 1986, and that defendant did not enter the female section during her shift.
In order to corroborate Guzman's testimony that defendant had sexually assaulted her, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Frank Redo, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and Dr. Leslie Johnson, a geneticist with extensive experience in Human Leucocyte Antigen (HLA) testing. Dr. Redo testified that a birth date of October 10, 1986, was within the range of a normal term pregnancy if conception occurred on January 25, 1986, the date of the alleged sexual assault. Dr. Johnson testified that six red-blood cell tests and an HLA test indicated that defendant could not be excluded as the father of Guzman's child. Thereafter, Dr. ...