On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.
Brody, Landau and Thomas. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
This appeal requires us to explore the elements of the crime of criminal coercion, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-5.
Peter Camamis constructed several garage-like buildings on his highway property. He otherwise was using the property as a junk yard, dealing primarily with scrapped automobiles. One day Edmond Booker, a professional "hit man," entered Camamis's office on the property pretending to be interested in leasing
one of the buildings. After Camamis told Booker his name, Booker drew a handgun and demanded all the cash in his wallet. Camamis complied. Booker then ordered Camamis at gunpoint to enter an automobile that was on the premises and lie down on its front seat. Camamis complied. Booker then shot a single bullet into the fleshy part of Camamis's thighs. The bullet pierced one thigh and came to rest just before exiting the other. Booker fled in Camamis's personal automobile but was soon apprehended by the police.
When Booker drove away, Camamis, despite his wounds, ran from the automobile in which he had been shot and telephoned the police. An alert police officer soon spotted Camamis's automobile and arrested Booker. Booker immediately confessed. He also agreed to aid in apprehending defendant, who he claimed had agreed to pay him to break Camamis's legs. At the direction of the police, Booker telephoned defendant and directed him to pay two men the balance due for what he had done to Camamis. When the two men came by, defendant paid them as directed, not realizing that they were police officers.
Defendant operated an automobile leasing business almost directly across the highway from Camamis's office. Camamis's sister owned the property, which defendant occupied under a 10-year lease. Camamis had written the lease and signed it, purportedly acting on his sister's behalf. Thereafter, disputes arose between defendant and Camamis. Camamis objected to various ways defendant was using the property and defendant objected to Camamis's failure to provide various improvements which he contended Camamis was obliged to make under the terms of lease. Tension between the two, which intensified over time, led to an eviction action that was unresolved at the time of trial. Camamis's sister had brought the action. She claimed that her brother did not have her authority to enter into the lease.
Frustrated and angered by what he considered just grievances against Camamis, defendant erected a billboard on his
property that read, "Help, being run out of business." Defendant told his story to a customer who expressed an interest after seeing the billboard. Defendant testified that the customer offered to put him in touch with someone who would frighten Camamis into "backing off." With the customer's aid, defendant engaged Booker for $3,000. Booker's credentials, it now appears, included convictions for armed robbery and attempted murder.
Booker and defendant were tried together. Booker's "defense" was little more than a willingness to testify against defendant and hope for the best at sentencing. The main factual issue at trial was whether defendant had hired Booker to break Camamis's legs as Booker testified or, as defendant testified, merely to threaten Camamis with unspecified harm if he and his sister continued their efforts to evict him.
Booker testified that before performing his part of the agreement, he felt sorry for Camamis and decided not to break his legs with a bat, which he explained was the proper way of carrying out his assignment. Instead, he forced Camamis to lie still on the seat of the automobile so that he could carefully inflict only a minor bullet wound.*fn1 Booker testified that he took ...