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State v. Darrian

May 8, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 87-03-0255.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 21, 2008

Before Judges Graves, Sabatino and Alvarez.

Defendant Charles Darrian, pro se, who was convicted in 1988 of murder, aggravated sexual assault and other related offenses, appeals the Law Division's denial of his second petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR"). We affirm.

The criminal prosecution of defendant arose out of the discovery of the body of a young woman, Santa Maria Pinkston, on the floor of her apartment on the morning of October 30, 1986. Pinkston was defendant's former girlfriend. Evidence at the crime scene conclusively showed that Pinkston had been beaten and then strangled with a wire coat hanger. Investigators also determined that she had been raped.

Defendant had been seen by two eyewitnesses with Pinkston the night of her death. His mother told police that he had called her the next morning and asked her if the police had come to the house looking for him. The State also presented testimony of a fellow inmate in the county jail, who contended that defendant had admitted that he had choked Pinkston to death in a fit of jealousy.

Defendant testified at trial. He denied being at the victim's apartment on the night of the crimes, although he did acknowledge having consensual sexual relations with her two days earlier. He admitted calling his mother on the morning of October 30, but denied alluding to the police possibly looking for him. We need not recite the other details of the crimes or the remaining trial proofs, as they are presented at length in Judge Conley's opinion affirming defendant's convictions on direct appeal. See State v. Darrian, 255 N.J. Super. 435 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 130 N.J. 13 (1992).

Defendant received a term of life imprisonment with a thirty-year parole disqualification on the murder conviction, plus a consecutive sentence of ten years with a five-year parole disqualification on his conviction of aggravated sexual assault. His convictions on the related offenses were merged. As we noted, the convictions were upheld on direct appeal, and the Supreme Court denied certification.

Defendant filed his first PCR petition, with the assistance of appointed counsel, in October 1992. The petition was denied in February 1993, and defendant appealed. While that PCR appeal was pending, defendant filed a motion to compel the State to produce evidence. Specifically, defendant sought a DNA test of semen found on the victim's thigh. With the State's consent, we remanded the pending PCR appeal to permit the motion to compel the DNA testing to be heard in the Law Division, and also dismissed the appeal subject to potential reinstatement. The Law Division granted the requested DNA. The subsequent tests ruled out defendant as the source of the semen found on the victim.

Defendant then moved for a new trial pursuant to Rule 3:20-1 on the grounds of newly-discovered evidence. Extensive hearings in the Law Division on that motion began in September 1996 and concluded in March 1998. After considering all of the proofs, the trial judge denied the motion, finding that the semen stain was only one part of the State's considerable evidence against defendant, and that the newly-discovered evidence would not have been likely to change the jury's assessment of guilt. We upheld that decision on appeal, in a per curiam opinion in December 1999. State v. Darrian, No. A-5379-97 (App. Div. Dec. 22, 1999) (slip op. at 4-5), certif. denied, 163 N.J. 397 (2000). In particular, we concluded that:

A consideration of the defendant's contentions and supporting arguments leads us to conclude that they are without merit.

We need not restate the considerable other evidence bearing on the defendant's guilt which had nothing do with the existence of residual semen found on the body of the victim. That evidence is set forth at length by [the trial judge] and we affirm substantially for the reasons stated by him in his bench opinion of March 12, 1998. [Ibid. (Emphasis added.)]

We also disagreed with defendant's estimate of the weight that the jury was likely to have given to the testimony of the State's forensic expert. We observed that the expert's testimony about the source of the semen was "somewhat equivocal," id. at 5, and that defendant's trial counsel had highlighted the inconclusiveness of that ...

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