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State v. Chew

Decided: July 26, 1994.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN CHEW, DEFENDANT.



Hoffman, J.s.c.

Hoffman

OPINION

Hoffman, J.S.C.

This case presents the unresolved issue of whether the capital aggravating factor of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(d) may apply to murders committed for the purpose of obtaining insurance proceeds, or whether it is limited to so-called "contract killers." Defendant John Chew has been charged with capital murder under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(d), which provides for capital punishment if "the defendant committed the murder as consideration for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value." The defense has moved to strike that aggravating factor on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The facts alleged before the grand jury are as follows: On the morning of January 13, 1993, police found the body of Teresa Bowman in a car parked behind the Woodbridge Hilton Hotel. She bore a large wound to the neck, as well as smaller wounds on the hands and right forearm of the type known as "defense wounds." The knife used to kill her apparently broke during the attack, and a portion of the blade was found inside her jacket. Police traced the car to defendant John Chew, and ascertained that the victim had been his live-in girlfriend for approximately the two years prior.

Sergeant Geoffrey Kerwin testified before the grand jury that he notified the defendant in person of Teresa Bowman's death. While speaking to Chew, Sergeant Kerwin noticed several cuts on his chin, hands and chest. Chew attributed the cuts to slipping on a broken drinking glass. During the course of the interview, the officers discovered that Chew had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on Teresa Bowman in June of 1991, with himself as the beneficiary. Sergeant Kerwin testified that he subsequently discovered that the premium payments for the policy had been deducted from Teresa Bowman's checking account. In December of 1992, a premium payment was rejected for insufficient funds.

On December 31, just two weeks before the murder, Chew appeared at the insurance agent's home offering to pay in cash, and expressing great concern that the policy should not lapse.

The defendant's son, Robert Chew, testified that on several occasions the defendant had asked him to kill Teresa Bowman for her insurance money, and had even discussed specific methods with him. George Tilton, a friend and co-worker of the defendant, testified that as soon as Chew obtained the life insurance policy for Teresa Bowman he began to talk about killing her. Chew spoke about it regularly, and at one point offered Tilton $10,000 to commit the murder. Dennis Smith, another of Chew's co-workers, testified that shortly after obtaining the policy the defendant told him "I'm going to knock the bitch off." David Charette, the defendant's brother-in-law, testified that in late 1992 Chew told him that he was planning a "$250,000 scam" to solve his money problems.

I

The grand jury performs an accusative rather than an adjudicatory function, and thus operates with much laxer standards of proof than a trial jury does. An indictment that appears sufficient on its face will stand if the State presented at least some evidence to the grand jury as to each element of the prima facie case. State v. Vasky, 217 N.J. Super. 487 (App. Div. 1987). A defendant seeking to challenge an aggravating factor as insufficiently supported by the evidence bears the burden of showing that the evidence which would support such a claim is "clearly lacking." State v. McCrary, 115 N.J. 191, 196 (1989); State v. Matulewicz, 97 N.J. 132, 142 (1984). I find that the State presented ample evidence that the defendant intended to murder Teresa Bowman for the purpose of obtaining the benefits of her insurance policy.

II

However, while there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on the theory of murder for insurance ...


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