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State v. Baker

July 11, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
SCOTT L. BAKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 95-07-0731.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued April 7, 2008

Before Judges Graves and Alvarez.

This is an appeal from the denial of defendant's petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) without an evidentiary hearing. Defendant raises the following points:

POINT I

JUDGE CITTA COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN DENYING DEFENDANT-APPELLANT'S MOTION FOR POST CONVICTION RELIEF.

POINT II

JUDGE CITTA COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN DENYING DEFENDANT-APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING.

We reject defendant's contentions and affirm.

On June 17, 1997, a jury convicted defendant, Scott L. Baker, of conspiracy to commit second-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count one); first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count two); first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) (count three); first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (count four); possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d) (count five); and unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d) (count six).*fn1 On September 22, 1998, defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment subject to thirty years parole ineligibility on the first-degree murder, a consecutive sentence of twenty years subject to ten years parole ineligibility on the armed robbery, and a concurrent five-year sentence on the count five weapons charge. The conspiracy to commit second-degree armed robbery, count one, was merged with count two, first-degree armed robbery. The felony murder, count four, was merged into the purposeful and knowing murder, count three. Defendant's direct appeal was denied in an unpublished opinion, and his petition for certification was also denied on July 6, 2002. State v. Baker (Baker II), No. A-4991-98 (App. Div. April 4, 2002), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 192 (2002).

On March 31, 2003, defendant filed a pro se notice of motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). After a substantial delay occasioned by scant resources in the Office of the Public Defender, counsel was assigned and the matter briefed and argued. On December 15, 2006, the PCR judge rendered an oral decision denying defendant's motion.

The facts will not be set forth at length, as they are fully described in the direct appeal opinion, and are not necessary to this decision. Suffice it to say that defendant was charged with the brutal murder and robbery of a seventy-five-year-old female victim, whom defendant met through his employment as a home health aide. The victim's body was discovered in the trunk of her car, which had been abandoned in Lakewood with its lights on and motor running. The victim had employed home health aides to assist with the care of her eighty-one-year-old husband, who suffered from end-stage Alzheimer's disease. After the murder, police discovered that the victim kept significant amounts of cash in her home, and immediately focused their attention on the home health aides. Two co-defendants testified for the State, implicating defendant not only as the planner, but the principal actor who entered the home alone, and who later admitted to them that he stabbed the victim. As we said on the direct appeal, it was a close call for the jury in light "of the virtual absence of physical evidence linking defendant to the crime." Baker II, supra, slip op. at 9-10. As we ...


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