On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 01-05-1003.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 18, 2007
Before Judges Stern, Collester and Lyons.
Defendant was convicted of purposeful and knowing murder and other crimes and, following merger, received concurrent sentences aggregating fifty years with 85% to be served before parole eligibility under the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. On this appeal he argues:
POINT I THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS FOR ACQUITTAL
POINT II THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN PERMITTING THE STATE TO ADVISE THE JURY THAT DIONNE BURSE, THE VICTIM, WAS CARRYING A 15 OR 16 WEEK BABY AT THE TIME OF HER DEATH
POINT III THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SEVER COUNTS 9 AND 10 OF THE INDICTMENT BECAUSE OF PREJUDICIAL JOINDER OF CLAIMS
POINT IV THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN PERMITTING NATASHA WILLIAMS TO TELL THE JURY THAT DEFENDANT THREATENED TO KILL HER
POINT V THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN PERMITTING UNDULY PREJUDICIAL EVIDENCE REGARDING AN ALLEGED EARLIER VERBAL DISPUTE BETWEEN DEFENDANT AND DIONNE BURSE
POINT VI THE PROSECUTOR'S COMMENTS DURING TRIAL DENIED DEFENDANT A FAIR TRIAL (Plain Error) POINT VII THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REFUSING TO SUPPRESS DEFENDANT'S STATEMENT TO DETECTIVE APPLEYARD
POINT VIII THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN PERMITTING INTO EVIDENCE UNECESSARY [SIC] AND PREJUDICIAL AUTOPSY AND OTHER PHOTOGRAPHS
POINT IX THE TRIAL COURT'S JURY CHARGES WERE INSUFFICIENT (Partially Raised Below)
POINT X THE SENTENCE IMPOSED BY THE TRIAL COURT IS EXCESSIVE
The first eight counts of the indictment relate to offenses against the homicide victim, Dionne Burse, and related weapon charges, while counts nine and ten relate to offenses involving Natasha Williams, defendant's live-in girlfriend at the time. Except for the sentence imposed, we find no merit to these arguments and that only the following discussion is warranted in a written opinion. See R. 2:11-3(e)(2).
The trial proofs reveal the following.
The victim, Dionne Burse, was found dead in her apartment on June 6, 2000. A window screen missing from the kitchen window and a pit bull terrier and puppies were found in the apartment, but no drugs or drug paraphernalia were found at the scene. Burse was fifteen to sixteen weeks pregnant at the time of her death and she had been stabbed fifty-six or fifty-seven times. The pit bull puppies were apparently sired by the male pit bull owned by Natasha Williams, but Williams, who was pregnant with defendant's child, and defendant differed as to whether they wanted one of the litter. Defendant wanted one and told Williams that he went to the Burse apartment "to get the puppies." When defendant returned, his clothes and shoes had blood on them, and he told Williams "he killed somebody."
When she asked "who," "[h]e said Dionne." According to Williams:
Q: You said then that he told you what happened. What exactly did he tell you as far as you remember?
A: He was going in there to get the puppies and somebody was there. So he waited. The person left. He went to go open the door. She heard the door open. She was like who's that? Who's that? She came, she had a knife in her hand. She didn't know who it was and she was coming towards him with the ...