Before Judges Dreier, Keefe and P.g. Levy
The opinion of the court was delivered by: P.g. Levy, J.A.D.
Submitted: February 24, 1998
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
A family dispute erupted between defendants and their two cousins over the title to a residence in East Orange. The conflict eventuated in this criminal prosecution culminating in defendants' convictions of criminal restraint, assault and illegal possession of a handgun. Each defendant was sentenced to a net minimum term of three years imprisonment, and each sentence was stayed pending appeal. The appeals of the five defendants have been calendared back-to-back, and we
have combined them in this single opinion.
A reasonable jury, although not compelled to, could have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Brown, 80 N.J. 587, 591-97 (1979).
On April 29, 1993, Georgia Rose lived in a house in East Orange, with her brothers and her nine-year-old daughter Shanita. She had resided there for approximately twenty years. Georgia moved to this address, the home of her guardian and great aunt Mabel Upshaw, when her own mother died. Upshaw and her two sisters, Esther Billings and Fannie Bryant, had owned the house. Georgia and her brothers referred to Mabel Upshaw as their "mother" and Esther Billings as their "grandmother." After Fannie Bryant and Mabel Upshaw died, Esther continued to live at the house.
Esther's daughter is defendant Jeanette Billings who is married to defendant Donald Turner, Sr., and their three children are defendants Jeanie Turner, Sheila Turner and Donald Turner, Jr. Georgia referred to defendants as her "cousins." Defendants visited Esther frequently to care for her and bring her food and water. Subsequent to Upshaw's death, the electricity, heat and water were shut off periodically. Georgia, who received welfare assistance, periodically gave her brother Leroy some money to pay household bills.
On April 29, 1993, Esther Billings no longer lived in the house, which had fallen into disrepair. Georgia had made arrangements to move the next day and had already removed the dining room furniture and a bedroom set. After Georgia's daughter left for school, Sheila Turner arrived with two gallons of water. The two women conversed in the kitchen, but Georgia began to feel afraid and walked out onto the porch where Donald Turner, Jr. and Donald Turner, Sr. were standing. Georgia spoke to Donald, Jr. on the porch and then ran towards her neighbor's house. Sheila and Donald, Jr. chased Georgia back to the house. Georgia did not see Donald, Jr. again on that day.
At the front door, Donald, Sr. put handcuffs on Georgia. His daughters, Jeanie and Sheila, were present at the time. Georgia was then brought into the living room on the first floor. While Georgia was sitting handcuffed on a chair with her feet tied with cord, Donald, Sr. stood in front of her demanding to know the location of the deed to the house. Georgia replied that she did not know what he was talking about. Sheila, Jeanie, and their mother, Jeanette Billings, who was also in the house, joined the inquiry and asked Georgia about the location of the deed. These four defendants searched the house, apparently to no avail.
Donald, Sr. and Jeanette then brought Georgia up to a bedroom on the second floor of the house. With Sheila's assistance, they tied Georgia's legs to a chair with neckties and thick tape and bound her legs with weights. Her arms were handcuffed behind her.
Donald, Sr. and Jeanette repeatedly asked Georgia about the location of the deed, and she kept telling them that she did not know. While making these inquiries, they continued to search for the deed. Georgia heard banging noises emanating from other parts of the house during this time. In the interim, Donald, Sr. removed the handcuffs and tied Georgia's arms behind her chair.
At one point, Jeanette turned around and said an audible prayer by the dresser and then produced a small, silver gun which she placed into Georgia's mouth. This was the first time that Georgia had ever seen this gun. Jeanette and Donald, Sr. were the only defendants present in the room during the few seconds that the gun was in Georgia's mouth and the door was closed at the time. While the gun was in Georgia's mouth, Jeanette and Donald, Sr. told her to "shut up." Jeanette told Georgia that if she did not find the deed, "I will kill you, you will be dead at three o'clock."
When Donald, Sr. and Jeanette left the room where Georgia was being held, Sheila and Jeanie entered the room to watch over their captive. ...