February 13, 2008
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
SAI RAMESH MADDI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 01-08-00936.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 15, 2008
Before Judges Skillman and Yannotti.
A jury found defendant guilty of attempted murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1a(3) and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1); second-degree aggravated assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1); third-degree aggravated assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7); criminal restraint, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2b; criminal restraint, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2a; terroristic threats, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3b; and harassment, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. The trial court sentenced defendant to a fifteen-year term of imprisonment, with seven-and-a-half years of parole ineligibility, for attempted murder; a concurrent seven-year term, with three-and-a-half years of parole ineligibility, for second-degree aggravated assault; concurrent four-year terms, with two years of parole ineligibility, for third-degree aggravated assault, terroristic threats and the two counts of criminal restraint; and a thirty-day term for harassment.
Defendant's convictions were based on a series of assaults he inflicted upon his wife, Sireesha, between April 13, 2001 and June 4, 2001, which culminated in her nine-day hospitalization with multiple fractures of vertebrae, third-degree burns, numerous bite marks and other serious injuries.
Defendant and Sireesha were married in an arranged marriage in India on February 9, 2001. Defendant, who worked in New Jersey at the time of marriage, returned here shortly thereafter. Sireesha joined him on March 29, 2001, and they resided together in an apartment in Parsippany.
Defendant began verbally abusing Sireesha as soon as she arrived in New Jersey, and this verbal abuse developed into a pattern of physical violence starting in mid-April. Defendant set up a master-servant relationship with Sireesha by requiring her to sleep on the floor. If she did not comply, he would beat her or kick her. Defendant also forbid Sireesha from leaving their apartment except on limited occasions when he brought her with him, and he prohibited Sireesha from calling her parents in India.
When Sireesha violated any of defendant's rules, he punched her in the face, causing bleeding. In addition, he burned her by heating a large, metal cooking spoon on the stove and holding it against her ankle while he prevented her from moving. On another occasion, he burned her inner thigh the same way. In addition to burning, hitting and kicking Sireesha, defendant also bit Sireesha all over her body. Sireesha estimated that defendant inflicted a total of fifty or sixty bites upon her.
During the last week of May 2001, defendant instructed Sireesha not to eat, wear any clothes or shower for a week. Sireesha complied with this instruction for almost the entire week, but then, on June 2, 2001, she was so hungry that she tried to eat when defendant left the apartment. Defendant unexpectedly came home while Sireesha was preparing food. He grabbed Sireesha by the hair and pulled her into the bedroom. Once in the bedroom, defendant told Sireesha to lie down on her stomach, with her hands at her side. He then repeatedly jumped on her back. Defendant weighed approximately 175 lbs and did not remove his shoes while he administered this beating. Sireesha was nude at the time.
After jumping on Sireesha's back enough times to make her think she was going die, defendant asked her to sit up. When Sireesha was unable to get up, he pulled her by the hair into a sitting position and bit her chin until is started "severely bleeding." At the time of trial, four years later, Sireesha still had a visible mark on her chin from this biting incident.
On June 3, 2001, defendant and his brother called their mother in India and spoke to her, on a speaker phone, in Sireesha's presence. After hanging up the phone, defendant immediately started kicking Sireesha on the back. He told her: "I got the green signal and I will kill you, I will marry again."
Sireesha was in so much pain that she asked him: "can you kick on my - can you do that on my stomach." Defendant obliged and kicked her on the stomach, but then told her to turn back over and explained: "[I]f I do that one more time on your stomach you will die, I will become a murderer." He resumed kicking her in the back. While kicking Sireesha, defendant stated that he was going to kill her and remarry.
The following morning, after speaking to her family in India and a friend of the family in the United States, Sireesha called 911 and reported what defendant had done to her. The police responded to the call and, after observing the extent of the injuries on Sireesha's body, they had her taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Later that day, a warrant was issued for defendant's arrest. After being given Miranda warnings, defendant gave a statement to the police in which he admitted to biting, kicking and punching his wife. The only injuries to Sireesha that defendant denied inflicting were the burns. Defendant claimed that those injuries were self-inflicted.
At trial, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the emergency room physician who treated Sireesha after she arrived at the hospital. He testified about the laceration on Sireesha's chin from defendant biting her as well as the numerous bite marks on other parts of her body. He also testified about a black and blue area over Sireesha's eye and multiple black and blue marks on her back and extremities caused by defendant's punches and kicks. After performing x-rays, Dr. Rosenberg discovered that Sireesha had fractures in all five lower back vertebrae and a significant amount of bleeding in the bones. Some vertebrae had two fractures - one on each side. He testified that this type of injury - multiple back fractures - would require multiple blows of "[a]bsolutely tremendously significant" force. Sireesha also had a large amount of blood in the muscles next to the spine as well as bleeding in the kidney and blood in her urine and intestine due to injury to those organs.
Finally, Dr. Rosenberg testified that the force used to inflict these injuries was "life-threatening."
On appeal, defendant presents the following arguments:
I. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN FAILING TO STRIKE THE INDICTMENT AGAINST MADDI BECAUSE THE PROSECUTOR APPEALED TO THE GRAND JURORS' PARTIALITIES IN PRESENTING THE STATE'S EVIDENCE.
II. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN GRANTING THE STATE'S MOTION TO ADMIT EXTENSIVE EVIDENCE OF OTHER BAD ACTS UNDER RULE 404(b) OF THE NEW JERSEY RULES OF EVIDENCE BECAUSE THE UNDULY PREJUDICIAL IMPACT OF THIS EVIDENCE REQUIRED ITS EXCLUSION.
III. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN PERMITTING PESALA MADDI'S PHYSICIAN TO TESTIFY THAT HER INJURIES WERE LIFE-THREATENING BECAUSE THIS IS INADMISSIBLE NET OPINION EVIDENCE UNSUPPORTED BY FACTUAL BASIS.
IV. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN DENYING THE DEFENSE'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL ON THE SECOND DEGREE AGGRAVATED ASSAULT AND ATTEMPTED MURDER COUNTS AT THE CLOSE OF THE STATE'S CASE BECAUSE THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE "SERIOUS BODILY INJURY" UNDER BOTH COUNTS.
V. THE JURY'S GUILTY VERDICTS AGAINST MADDI ON AGGRAVATED ASSAULT AND ATTEMPTED MURDER CHARGES ARE AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE AND MUST BE REVERSED. (NOT RAISED BELOW).
VI. TAKEN TOGETHER, THE ERRORS COMMITTED DURING MADDI'S TRIAL CONSTITUTE CUMULATIVE ERROR REQUIRING A REVERSAL OF HIS CONVICTIONS.
The only arguments that warrant any discussion are the ones presented under Points III and IV of defendant's brief -- that the opinion of Sireesha's treating physician that her injuries were life-threatening was an inadmissible "net opinion" and that the State's evidence was insufficient to support defendant's conviction for attempted murder.
The "net opinion" rule is a "mere restatement of the established rule that an expert's bare conclusions, unsupported by factual evidence, [are] inadmissible." Buckelew v. Grossbard, 87 N.J. 512, 524 (1981). Sireesha's treating physician, Dr. Rosenberg, did not simply express a net opinion that her injuries were life-threatening. Instead, he described the nature and severity of those injuries in considerable detail. He testified that Sireesha had five broken vertebrae, some of which were broken on both sides, and that "it would be impossible to break so many vertebrae and both sides of the vertebrae with one blow without causing other types of injuries." He also testified that she had a significant amount of bleeding in the bones and adjacent muscle, and that this bleeding posed a risk of "continued hemorrhage." He further testified that the "degree of force" defendant used in kicking and jumping upon Sireesha "absolutely could cause death." Although Dr. Rosenberg did not describe the precise mechanism by which Sireesha's injuries could have caused death, this omission did not render his opinion an inadmissible net opinion because he presented the factual foundation for this conclusion. Moreover, on cross-examination defendant was able to explore that factual foundation for this conclusion and the degree of risk that Sireesha's injuries posed to her. In addition, defendant presented his own expert who disputed Dr. Rosenberg's opinions and concluded that Sireesha's injuries were not life-threatening.
To be found guilty of attempted murder, a defendant must have intended to cause death. State v. Rhett, 127 N.J. 3, 7 (1992). Death must be shown to have been the "conscious object" of the defendant's conduct. Ibid.
In support of the attempted murder charge, the State relied upon Sireesha's testimony regarding the severity of the beatings defendant administered to her, defendant's alleged statements to her and Dr. Rosenberg's testimony regarding the severity of her injuries and the force that would have been required to cause them. Sireesha testified that defendant kicked her multiple times in both the back and stomach. She also testified that defendant jumped on her back multiple times with his shoes on while she lay prone of the floor nude. Dr. Rosenberg testified that "[a]bsolutely tremendously significant" force would have to be used to cause the fractures he observed on the x-rays of Sireesha's back. In addition to this evidence of the severity of injuries defendant caused, Sireesha testified that he said to her: "[H]e will kill me and I will remarry." She also testified that defendant told her he "got [a] green signal" from his parents that he could kill her and remarry. We are satisfied that Sireesha's testimony as to the viciousness of the beatings defendant inflicted upon her, Dr. Rosenberg's testimony regarding the severity of her injuries and degree of force required to cause them, and Sireesha's testimony regarding defendant's statement that he would kill her and remarry provided a sufficient evidential foundation for the jury to find that defendant's intention in assaulting his wife was to cause her death.
Defendant's other arguments are clearly without merit and do not warrant discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).
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