On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Approved for Publication March 13, 1997.
Before Judges Long, Skillman and A.a. Rodriguez. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The primary issue presented by this appeal is whether an accomplice may be found guilty of purposeful or knowing murder even though his purpose was to cause serious bodily injury, rather than death, to the victim. This appeal also requires us to decide whether a trial court's failure to properly instruct the jury regarding the mental state required to find a defendant guilty as an accomplice is harmless error if the defendant is acquitted of purposeful or knowing murder but found guilty of the lesser included offense of aggravated manslaughter.
Defendant and codefendants Marvin Widemond and Kelvin Martin were indicted for conspiracy to commit murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, purposeful or knowing murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1)(2), possession of a handgun without a permit, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. In a joint trial, defendant and Widemond *fn1 were both acquitted of purposeful or knowing murder but convicted of the lesser included offense of aggravated manslaughter and the remaining charges.
The court sentenced defendant to a twenty-five year term of imprisonment, with eight-and-a-third years of parole ineligibility, for aggravated manslaughter. *fn2 The court merged defendant's convictions for conspiracy to commit murder and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose into his conviction for aggravated manslaughter. The court also imposed a concurrent five year term of imprisonment for possession of a handgun without a permit.
On appeal, defendant makes the following arguments: *fn3
I. THE STATE PRESENTED INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO CONVICT DEFENDANT OF MURDER OR CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT MURDER.
II. THE INSTRUCTIONS ON ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE HOLDING OF STATE v. BIELKIEWICZ.
III. THE JURY INSTRUCTION ON ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY WAS CONFUSING AND COULD HAVE LED THE JURY TO BELIEVE THAT LESS THAN A PURPOSEFUL STATE OF MIND WAS REQUIRED FOR ...