On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County.
Judges Petrella, Muir, Jr. and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.
A jury found defendant John Reed guilty of having "knowingly caused death or serious bodily injury resulting in death" contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(2) and of aggravated criminal sexual contact contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3a. For the murder conviction, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with thirty years' parole ineligibility, and for the conviction of criminal sexual contact, to a concurrent term of five years.
From the evidence presented, the jury could have found that some time on Saturday, March 14, 1987, defendant sexually assaulted or attempted to assault his victim, and that he killed her by stabbing her numerous times and fracturing her skull with a flat object.
Defendant's two most substantial grounds of appeal are that his statements to the police were obtained in violation of his constitutional rights and should have been suppressed and that the trial court's charge to the jury on the lesser included crime of passion-provocation manslaughter was erroneous. The defendant also alleges that he was prejudiced by other errors in the trial court's instructions to the jury, by the exclusion of material evidence from the jury, and by misconduct on the part of the prosecutor in his opening and summation.
Defendant's victim was a friend of his. Defendant had met her at work and had introduced her to Francis Varga, the woman with whom he was living. The three of them had gone out to dinner together.
On Monday morning, March 16, 1987, Ms. Varga and defendant telephoned the police from their house and reported that earlier that morning defendant had found the victim*fn1 slain in her town house. Defendant and Ms. Varga were told to meet the police outside the victim's town house. They were waiting there when a policeman arrived, and defendant related what he claimed had occurred.
According to the defendant, the victim had called him at 11:45 on the previous Friday night and had told him that an intruder was looking through her window and pounding on it. Because of the call, he visited the victim Saturday morning and they arranged to have dinner together that evening. When he arrived at her home to take her to dinner, her television and a
light in the hall were on, but no one answered the door bell. On his way to work Monday morning, defendant told the policeman, he went to the victim's house to see that she was all right. The front door was unlocked. He went in and found her lying on the floor dead.
After giving this statement to the police, defendant and Ms. Varga returned home. Some other police officers arrived at their house some time later that morning. After about twenty minutes of questioning, defendant and Ms. Varga were asked to go to the prosecutor's office. Defendant alone was taken to a closed room. Four police officers were present. After the police officers gave defendant his Miranda warnings, he signed a Miranda card and gave a statement.
About an hour later, one of the police officers again read defendant his Miranda rights and had him sign a card which asked questions about the Miranda warning. These questions were intended to elicit answers which would show that the defendant understood his Miranda rights. The officer then interviewed defendant. Defendant's statement was inconsistent with his previous statements and included elements that seemed unbelievable. After defendant had told his story, the officer began to question him about some of the details. Defendant began to change his version of what had occurred. He was accused of the murder and he admitted killing the victim, but he claimed that he had not really intended to kill her. Defendant then repeated his confession and it was tape recorded.
As the basis for objecting to the introduction of his statements, defendant claimed that he was mentally retarded and that he had, therefore, been unable to understand his Miranda rights or to knowingly waive them. He also claimed that because of his mental disability, the police should not have interviewed him without Ms. Varga present.
Defendant presented two psychologists and a psychiatrist who testified that he was retarded. ...