On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Camden County.
Approved for Publication January 25, 1996. As Amended. As Corrected March 18, 1996.
Before Judges Petrella, P.g. Levy and Eichen. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella
The opinion of the court was delivered by PETRELLA, P.J.A.D.
A jury convicted defendant Sharon Moorman of second degree manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b), as a lesser included offense of a charge of first degree murder of her twenty-two-month-old daughter. The trial Judge sentenced Moorman to ten years in prison, three years without parole eligibility. A $500 Victims of Crimes Compensation Board penalty was also assessed.
On appeal, filed nunc pro tunc, Moorman raises the following issues:
I. Highly prejudicial "other crimes" evidence was improperly admitted during the trial.
(A) The court erred in finding sufficient evidence that defendant was responsible for the prior offenses, assuming arguendo that there were prior offenses.
(B) The court erred in concluding that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its potential for prejudice.
II. There is no basis in the record for recognition of battered child syndrome, at least as defined by the State's expert, and he should not have been permitted to offer an opinion that the deceased was a battered child.
III. The sentence of ten years with a parole ineligibility of three years was excessive.
Predicated on the proofs presented during the trial, the jury could well have found the following facts. At about 8:00 a.m. on January 21, 1990, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived at Moorman's residence at 1559 Norris Street in Camden. They observed a toddler, later identified as Labria Moorman, defendant's twenty-two-month-old daughter, lying face up on the living room floor. Her body was described as stiff, her skin cool and cyanotic. She was in cardiac arrest, neither breathing nor having any pulse. Attempts to resuscitate Labria both before and after her transportation to a nearby hospital were unavailing. At the hospital, Dr. Attawell concluded that she had been dead for a considerable length of time and that further attempts at resuscitation were futile.
Upon examination, the doctor noticed multiple bruises about Labria's torso, arms, abdomen, lower belly and chest, as well as a circular, non-healing ulcer on the top of her left foot. She also discovered scarring on Labria's left and right buttocks and on her left inner elbow and lower arm, as well as bruising from the base of her right thumb to her right shoulder. The bruising and scarring appeared to be of varying colorations. Chemical analysis of an incontinent stool found in Labria's diaper revealed blood in her feces, indicating an abnormality in the bowel causing blood to flow into it.
Dr. Attawell concluded that the trauma suffered by the infant was of suspicious origin and queried Moorman about Labria's condition. Moorman indicated that Labria had been suffering from a fever and cold symptoms during the five days before January 21, 1990. In response to the doctor's inquiry about any injury which might have caused the bruising and scarring, Moorman replied that two days earlier Labria had fallen down a flight of stairs, but "seemed okay" after the fall. Moorman also said that Labria had fallen down a flight of stairs about a month earlier and was treated at a different hospital. When the doctor informed Moorman that her daughter had died, she became upset.
The county medical examiner was advised of the doctor's suspicions. The police then went to the hospital to interview Moorman. Moorman, who was not then in custody or under arrest, told the officers that Labria had fallen down the stairs in their home on January 18, but was not taken to the hospital because she did not appear to require medical attention. She also told the police that Labria had fallen down ...