On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For affirmance and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Justice Clifford concurs in the judgment. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.
[121 NJ Page 151] The fresh-complaint rule allows witnesses in a criminal trial to testify to a victim's complaint of sexual assault. The rule serves the limited purpose of negating the inference that the alleged victim's failure to have confided in anyone was inconsistent
with her later claims of having been sexually assaulted. This appeal presents two questions regarding the fresh-complaint rule. The first question is whether a complaint elicited through questioning has the requisite spontaneity and voluntariness to qualify under the fresh-complaint rule. The second is whether trial courts should exclude cumulative fresh-complaint evidence.
The versions of the facts advanced by the accused and the accuser in this case vary dramatically. We will proceed chronologically and detail each side's account as well as the evidence adduced at trial to support each party's theory of the case.
A. Background and events preceding the alleged sexual assault
M.K., the accuser, was sixteen years old when the relevant events occurred. She resided in the Collier Group Home in Red Bank ("Home"). The Division of Youth and Family Services (D.Y.F.S.) operated the Home. Young women who could not live with their families resided at the Home. The Home was managed in part by Valerie McCabe, a senior child-care worker. Strict discipline was an integral part of the Home's management. The young women had to adhere to curfews and had to account for how they spent their time.
In March of 1985, Calvin Hill, eighteen years of age, moved across the street from the Home after having left North Carolina. He lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. One of his cousins, Anthony Jones, was romantically involved with C.W., a resident of the Home.
Around 4:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, April 14, 1985, M.K. was walking home with C.W. from her part-time job at the
Monmouth Art Center in Red Bank. The young women met Anthony Jones. He asked them if they wanted to go to a party. The women agreed and went into Jones' house. They congregated in the bedroom Jones shared with Hill, and a short time later Hill and a friend, Joe Brandon, came in the room.
The young people played music, drank beer, and smoked marijuana. M.K. drank but did not smoke marijuana. M.K. claims that at one point during the early evening, she left the bedroom to use the bathroom. She asked someone where the bathroom was, and he waved her upstairs. It was very dark in the room atop the stairs, and when she realized it was not a bathroom, she turned to leave but found Hill blocking the doorway. When she tried to leave, he blocked her way, warned her not to scream because no one would hear her above the loud music. He then raped her.
A short while later, Anthony Jones knocked on the door. Hill got up and talked to his cousin through the closed door. M.K. got dressed. Before letting her leave the room, Hill warned her not to tell anyone.
M.K. went back to the bedroom where the teenagers had congregated, and started drinking heavily. A while later, C.W. came back to the room and the two of them went home. When the two women arrived at the Collier home, in order to avoid being punished they said they had been working late.
Hill learned from his cousin, Anthony Jones, that M.K. and C.W. were supposed to come over for a party after work on Sunday. M.K. was supposed to meet Joe Brandon for a blind date at the house.
When the group convened in the bedroom, there were only three beers available and no marijuana. The topic of conversation quickly became sex. Shortly thereafter, M.K. told C.W. and C.W., in turn, told Anthony Jones that M.K. liked Hill. Hill asked M.K. to go upstairs to the attic with him. She did not respond, and he did not ask again.
More people came to the party. A while later, C.W. and Anthony Jones began to leave the room. M.K. got up to go with them. She gestured to Hill to come with her. He followed her upstairs to the attic. The music was not loud because Mr. Hill's aunt had come home and asked that the volume be lowered.
The room was dark because it was nightfall. They did not turn on the lights. Hill claims that M.K. invited him to have sexual relations with her, but that he did not. After approximately five minutes, his cousin knocked on the door. When he emerged from the room, his cousin and C.W. were waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
C. Events subsequent to the alleged incident: M.K.'s version
On May 25, 1985, D.R., a seventeen-year-old resident of the Home went into M.K.'s room crying. She told her that Hill had raped her. M.K. related that Hill had raped her as well, but asked D.R. not to tell anyone because she was afraid of what Hill might do to her. Hill was charged with raping D.R. The same jury that convicted Hill of raping M.K. acquitted him of raping D.R.
On June 2, 1985, a street fight erupted that involved a group consisting of M.K., D.R., and Kevin Rogers, D.R.'s boyfriend, against Calvin Hill and Anthony Jones. Jones had asked the group if they wanted to go to a barbeque. When they refused, Jones and Hill became angry. A fight ensued in which Hill tried to strike Kevin Rogers. When D.R. got in between the two, Hill punched her in the face. He also pushed M.K. against a tree. Hill then took out a knife. Rogers grabbed a bottle from the street and broke it. At that point, a friend of Hill ushered him away.
Valerie McCabe heard the ruckus and called the police, who took D.R., M.K., Kevin Rogers, and Calvin Hill, along with Ms. McCabe, to the police station. The police placed Calvin Hill in a
room with an officer and D.R., M.K. and Ms. McCabe in a separate room.
The policeman who was in the process of interviewing Hill came into the room where another officer was interviewing D.R., M.K., and Ms. McCabe. He whispered to the officer that Hill had said both D.R. and M.K. were former girlfriends and that he had had sexual relations with both of them. The policeman asked the young women, in front of Ms. McCabe, whether that was true. M.K. said it was not true, and D.R. remained silent.
On the way home, Ms. McCabe asked the young women again in the car whether what Hill had said was true. Kevin Rogers was present, and the women were not willing to talk in front of him. When they got to the house, Ms. McCabe asked D.R. again whether she had been having sexual relations with Calvin Hill. D.R. responded that Calvin Hill had raped her. M.K. said nothing. Ms. McCabe then called the police once more.
Detective Hoffman came to the house. D.R. told him Hill had raped her. Ms. McCabe then called M.K. into the room. The policeman questioned her about whether she had also been raped. She began crying, and said she had been. Hill was subsequently arrested.
On September 15, 1985, M.K. alleges that she saw defendant in the Red Bank train station and that he told her that he knew he would be going away for the crime he committed but that he would get her when he got out. M.K. was on her way to visit her boyfriend. When she arrived at his home, she waited until very late in the evening to call the Home and the police about the threat. She told the Home supervisors that she could not go to the Home that night because she was too upset by Hill's threat.
Hill claims M.K. returned to his house a few days after the party, accompanied by D.R. The young women joined Hill, his cousin, and a few other ...