On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 96-09-01197.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 11, 2007
Before Judges Winkelstein and Yannotti.
Defendant Michael Ammean appeals from an order entered by the Law Division on March 20, 2006, which denied defendant's petition for post conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
In September 1996, defendant and co-defendant Debbie Kohlhepp (Kohlhepp) were charged under a Middlesex County indictment with robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count one); aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1) (count two); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d (count three); and unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d (count four).
Defendant entered a guilty plea on February 5, 1998 but failed to appear for sentencing in April 1998. Defendant was arrested on a warrant in Texas in April 2000, and returned to New Jersey upon his extradition. The court refused to accept the plea agreement. Defendant entered another guilty plea on September 5, 2001, and thereafter filed a motion to vacate the plea. The court entered an order on January 31, 2002, allowing defendant to withdraw his plea.
Defendant was subsequently tried before Judge Jane B. Cantor and a jury. The evidence presented at trial established that in the early morning hours of June 29, 1996, Edmundo Gonzalez (Gonzalez) and Lildio Luiz (Luiz) were in a tavern in Sayreville. They were seated at the bar, near defendant and Kohlepp. Kohlepp testified that she and defendant decided that she would pretend to be a prostitute so that defendant could rob Gonzalez and Luiz in order to obtain money to purchase drugs.
Defendant approached Gonzalez and told him that Kohlepp would have sexual relations with him for money. Gonzalez refused the offer, but Luiz indicated that he was interested.
Defendant, Kohlepp, Gonzalez and Luiz left the tavern and drove to a motel on Route 18. There were no rooms available at that motel, so they decided to go to another motel on Route 1. Gonzalez apparently changed his mind and decided that he wanted to go home. He made a U-turn on Route 18 and headed towards New Brunswick. Defendant began to strike Gonzalez, and demanded that Gonzalez and Luiz give him their money. Defendant told Gonzalez to stop the car but Gonzalez could not find a place to stop so he continued driving. Defendant found a putty knife on the floor of the car and slashed Gonzalez's face and neck.
Defendant again told Gonzalez stop the car and repeated his demand that Gonzalez and Luiz give him their money. Gonzalez pulled off the road at the Rutgers crew boat house on Route 18 in New Brunswick. Luiz jumped out of the car. Gonzalez tried to get out of the car but defendant stopped him, again slashed his face with the putty knife, and grabbed his wallet. Defendant and Kohlepp fled across Route 18 towards George Street. They stopped by a stream, where defendant took off his shirt, wiped the shirt in the water, and used it to remove the blood from his body. Defendant and Kohlepp began to walk south on George Street, away from downtown New Brunswick.
Gonzalez and Luiz ran to a filling station and called the police. The police responded to the call. Gonzalez was taken to the hospital, where he received more than one hundred stitches to close the wounds. The police radioed an alert for the two suspects. A police officer was driving north on George Street and saw defendant and Kohlepp walking south. He heard the police broadcast and made a U-turn.
Defendant and Kohlepp saw the officer turn his car around and they fled into a wooded area near Douglass College. The officer pursued them and found defendant's wet shirt on a retaining wall. Other officers responded to the scene and went into the wooded area where they apprehended defendant and Kohlepp. They did not have any money in their possession.
Defendant and Kohlepp were brought to the hospital, where Gonzalez identified them as the perpetrators of the assault and robbery. Later, the police returned to the parking lot near the Rutgers boat house and found Gonzalez's wallet in a patch of bloody grass. Gonzalez identified the wallet as his and stated that it had contained about $60.
The jury found defendant guilty on all five counts. At sentencing, the judge merged the weapons convictions with the conviction for armed robbery, and imposed an eighteen-year term of incarceration, with a nine-year period of parole ineligibility. The judge also imposed a consecutive eight-year term of imprisonment for the aggravated assault conviction. Defendant was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $14,404.39, and appropriate statutory assessments, fees and penalties were imposed.
Defendant filed a direct appeal and his counsel raised the ...