On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 96-05-00430-I.
Before Judges Skillman, Conley and Lesemann.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Defendant was indicted together with co-defendant Michelle LeDonne for capital murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11- 3(a)(1),(2), and other related charges. At the beginning of the initial joint trial, the co-defendant entered into a plea bargain pursuant to which she agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges and testify against defendant. The trial court then declared a mistrial and defendant was subsequently tried alone. After a trial that lasted nearly a month, defendant was found guilty of both murders. In the capital penalty phase of the case, the jury determined not to impose the death penalty. Thereafter, the trial court sentenced defendant to consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with thirty years of parole ineligibility, for each of the murders. Defendant's convictions for conspiracy to commit murder and a weapons offense were merged into his murder convictions.
Defendant's convictions were based on the March 3, 1993 execution-style murders of Clayton Krause and Richard LeDonne in a motel room in Parsippany. Krause and LeDonne both lived in the Pittsburgh area, but stayed at the motel during the week while they worked at a construction site in New York City. Shell casings and bullet fragments found at the murder scene and the autopsies of the victims indicated that the same nine millimeter gun had been used to kill both men.
At the time of the murders, one of the victims, Richard LeDonne, was married to co-defendant Michelle LeDonne. Seven months before, Michelle had begun an affair with defendant.
Approximately a month and a half before the murders, the LeDonnes had purchased a $500,000 life insurance policy on the victim's life. This policy was in addition to a $100,000 policy on the victim's life that the LeDonnes had purchased at the time of their marriage on February 14, 1991.
The LeDonnes lived in a duplex home. The other half of the duplex was occupied by a distant cousin of Michelle named Anthony Carelli, Jr., who was a drug addict with a substantial criminal record. Carelli was also an FBI informant. Michelle moved out of the duplex shortly after the murders, first into a newer apartment and later into a home she purchased with some of the proceeds from the insurance policies on her husband's life. However, she continued to have contact with Carelli, and Carelli got to know defendant when he visited Michelle's new home.
According to Carelli, defendant came to him sometime late in 1994 and asked if he "could get rid of a nine millimeter [gun.]" Defendant told Carelli that the weapon was "hot." Carelli agreed to help defendant, and Carelli sold the gun a few weeks later to his cocaine supplier, Lamar Rodgers, in exchange for cash and cocaine.
Shortly after selling the gun to Rodgers, Carelli told the FBI about the transaction. The FBI determined by communications with the Morris County Prosecutor's office that the gun Carelli had sold to Rodgers was the same type of weapon used in the Parsippany murders. The FBI then had Carelli attempt to reacquire the gun from Rodgers. On February 1, 1995, Carelli had a meeting with Rodgers, which the FBI recorded, during which Carelli made an unsuccessful attempt to get the gun back from Rodgers.
About one month later, on March 11, 1995, Rodgers brought the gun to a party in the Pittsburgh area. A fight erupted during the party, which resulted in two persons being shot to death. In the course of this incident, Rodgers fired the nine millimeter gun he had acquired from Carelli numerous times. According to Rodgers, he disassembled the gun after this incident and threw the pieces away. However, the police recovered shell casings and bullet fragments from Rodgers' gun at this crime scene. The State's ballistics expert, Dr. Robert Levine, a firearms examiner with the Allegheny County Coroner's office, concluded that the bullets fired by Rodgers in the Pittsburgh shooting incident were fired from the same gun as the bullets that had killed Krause and LeDonne.
At trial, Michelle LeDonne, Carelli, and Rodgers all testified for the State against defendant. LeDonne denied that she had been involved with defendant in planning the murders. However, she testified that defendant told her a week after the murders that he had killed her husband. According to LeDonne, defendant told her he had driven from the Pittsburgh area to the Parsippany motel where her husband was staying. After Krause responded to a knock on the door to the victims' room, defendant led him into the bathroom and shot him in the head. Richard LeDonne returned to the room a little while later, and defendant then shot him too. According to LeDonne, defendant told her he had committed the murders because he thought her husband had found out about their affair and he was afraid her husband "was going to do something to him." LeDonne also suggested that defendant committed the murders because she had repeatedly told him during their six month affair that she would not leave her husband for him.
Despite being told by defendant that he had murdered her husband, LeDonne continued her intimate relationship with him. In fact, LeDonne and defendant lived together, for at least a substantial part of the time, from the date of the murder until their arrests more than two years later. When the police executed the warrants for the arrests of defendant and LeDonne and the search of their homes, they discovered defendant's clothing and other personal belongings in one of LeDonne's bedrooms and other evidence that indicated he and LeDonne were still living together. The State also presented evidence that during the two-year period following the murders, defendant and LeDonne maintained a lavish lifestyle ...