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State v. Cooks

March 14, 2007


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 03-01-0296.

Per curiam.


Submitted February 7, 2007

Before Judges Wefing, C. S. Fisher and Yannotti.

Defendant James T. Cooks and William D. Reese (Reese) were charged in a Camden County indictment with murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) or (2) (count one); conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count two); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (count three); and unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (count four). Defendant was additionally charged with possession of a weapon by a person not permitted to possess the same, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7b (count five). Reese also was charged as a person not permitted to have a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7b (count six). Defendant and Reese were tried separately.

At defendant's trial, the State presented testimony from Marisol Cortez (Cortez), who stated that around 7:00 p.m. on February 26, 2002, she met James Biddle, Jr. (Biddle), while she was standing with her sister on the porch of a residence on South 24th Street near Mickle Street in Camden. Biddle was known as "Duck" and he was observing Randall Williams (Williams) selling drugs across the street. Biddle walked over to Williams and took seven bags of heroin from him. Biddle told Cortez that he was going to sell the drugs because he needed money.

Cortez warned Biddle that there was "going to be some stuff now" because Williams would "get the owner of the drugs . . . ." According to Cortez, Biddle sold the drugs and then walked toward a nearby liquor store. Cortez saw Biddle return to the block about twenty minutes later. She saw defendant and Reese. They walked up to Biddle, took off their hoods, and shot Biddle "six, seven times, maybe even more." Biddle later was taken to a hospital, where he died as a result of the gunshot wounds.

Williams testified that he was selling drugs on the corner of 24th Street and Mickel Street around 7:00 p.m. on February 26, 2002. Biddle approached him and said that he should leave the corner and stop selling drugs or he would be "deal[t] with." Biddle pulled out a gun and took money and drugs from Williams. After his encounter with Biddle, Williams called defendant, who was one of his "managers," and informed him of what had occurred.

Williams said that about twenty minutes after he called defendant, he saw defendant and Reese. Their facial expressions indicated to Williams that they were there "to deal with the situation." Williams observed defendant and Reese approach Biddle, who was on a porch with two females. Defendant and Reese shot defendant. Williams said that Biddle did not "pull anything out." He said, "It happened so fast, so it couldn't have been -- there [were] no words."

Investigator Jeffrey W. Long (Long) of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office responded to the scene, and later questioned Cortez at Camden City's Police Administration Building. After speaking with Cortez, Long thought that defendant might have information about the shooting. Defendant was found and brought to the Police Administration Building. Long spoke with defendant. Long asked defendant if he knew why he was there and defendant replied, "Duck." Defendant then was informed of his rights under Miranda.*fn1 Defendant waived his rights and agreed to give a taped statement.

Defendant admitted that he shot Biddle but stated that he did so in self-defense. Defendant asserted that Biddle had walked up to him and pulled a gun on him. Defendant claimed that he grabbed Biddle's wrist and the gun went off. Defendant said that he ran with the gun in his hand and threw the weapon away in a garage several blocks away. The gun was later recovered in a vacant garage but there were no fingerprints on the weapon. Investigator James Joyce, of the State Police Ballistics Unit, testified that the bullet specimens recovered from the victim came from two weapons, one of which was the recovered revolver.

Dr. Robert Segal (Segal) performed the autopsy on Biddle. Segal testified that the autopsy revealed five gunshot wounds:

1) an entrance wound over the left clavicle; 2) a superficial bullet wound on the right side of the chest; 3) a wound that entered the back left buttock/thigh area; 4) a "through-and-through" gunshot wound in the right leg; and 5) a superficial wound in the lower portion of the right buttock. Segal found "no evidence of gunpowder or any evidence of close-range fire." He opined that the weapons were probably no closer to the target than two or three feet. Segal said that the cause of Biddle's death was the "combined effect" of the five gunshot wounds.

Defendant was found not guilty of murder as charged in count one, but guilty of aggravated manslaughter. Defendant was found not guilty on count two, conspiracy to commit murder, and guilty of the weapons offenses charged in counts three and four. After the jury's verdict on these charges, ...

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