On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 98-03-1494.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 19, 2007
Before Judges Payne and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant, Fuquan Craft, charged with murder and weapons offenses following the death by bludgeoning, stabbing and strangulation of his pregnant girlfriend, Benita Agostini, was convicted by a jury of the lesser offense of aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a and c, fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d, and third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d. He was sentenced, following merger of the weapons convictions into the manslaughter conviction, to thirty years in custody with an eight-five percent parole disqualifier pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. On appeal, we affirmed defendant's conviction in an unreported opinion, State v. Craft, No. A-6915-99T4 (App. Div.), and certification was denied. State v. Craft, 177 N.J. 572 (2003).
Defendant then petitioned for post-conviction relief (PCR), and with the consent of counsel, his petition was heard on the record previously made in the matter as supplemented by the certifications of defendant, the attorney representing him on his suppression motion and the attorney representing him on appeal. Upon denial of his petition, defendant appealed to us, raising the following arguments:
THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING POST-CONVICTION RELIEF BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT DID NOT RECEIVE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL.
TRIAL COUNSEL'S ADMISSION THAT HE WAS "UNAWARE" THAT HE COULD HAVE CHALLENGED THE LEGALITY OF THE DEFENDANT'S ARREST SATISFIED THE FIRST PRONG OF THE STRICKLAND/FRITZ TEST FOR INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL.
THE INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL WAS NOT PURGED BY "INTERVENING CIRCUMSTANCES."
Following our review of the record in light of the legal arguments made by counsel, we affirm.
The record demonstrates that in December 1997, during the eighth month of her pregnancy, Agostini moved in with defendant and his family, which included his sister Connie and his mother, Jacqueline. However, tensions arose when defendant became rightly suspicious that he was not the father of Agostini's soon-to-be-born child. On December 22, 1997, Agostini asked defendant for money to purchase food, stating that she and the child were hungry. Defendant refused, stating "let the mother fucker starve." That evening, defendant and his brother went to the movies while Agostini remained in the Craft residence, watching a video with defendant's mother and sister. After defendant and his brother returned home, the three left the Crafts' residence and were seen by a neighbor at approximately 1:00 a.m. on December 23 in front of an abandoned house. Approximately one hour later, two additional neighbors heard a woman scream ...