On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 03-01-0104.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 24, 2008
Before Judges Parker and R. B. Coleman.
Defendant Alim Hassan appeals from an order entered on April 18, 2006 denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) by which defendant sought to withdraw his plea of guilty to two counts of murder and one count of aggravated manslaughter, amended from murder. Defendant contends the evidence presented at the plea hearing failed to establish an adequate factual basis for the guilty plea. After carefully reviewing defendant's arguments in light of the facts and applicable law, we affirm.
On December 2, 2002, defendant was indicted by a Hudson County Grand Jury under Indictment No. 03-01-0104 charging five counts: murder of his mother-in-law, Bernadette Seajatan, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) or N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(2) (first count); murder of his sister-in-law, Sharon Yassim, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) or N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(2) (second count); murder of his wife, Marlyn Hassan, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) or N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(2) (third count); unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39- 5d (fourth count); and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d (fifth count). As part of a negotiated plea agreement entered on December 1, 2003, the State conditionally withdrew the Notice of Aggravating Factors it had filed and amended the third count of the indictment from murder to first degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4. The plea agreement removed defendant's exposure to the death penalty.*fn1 In exchange, defendant agreed to plead guilty to the first and second counts and to the third count, as amended. Counts four and five were to be dismissed.
The plea form disclosed that the prosecutor had agreed to recommend on each count of murder thirty years imprisonment with a period of parole ineligibility of thirty years and, on the aggravated manslaughter, thirty years with a period of ineligibility for eighty-five percent of that time. Defendant's total recommended exposure would be ninety years in prison with a mandatory minimum of eighty-five years and six months. The plea form expressly recited, however, that the "prosecutor [was] free to speak for consecutive sentences on each count; defense [was] free to speak for concurrent sentences."
During the colloquy at the plea hearing, the prosecutor placed on the record the facts supporting the charges that were the subject of the plea agreement. Before doing so, the prosecutor acknowledged the circumstantial nature of the evidence, commenting "Judge, the difficulty I have with marking the documents is that there is no really no one report that explains the case. It is a circumstantial case." The prosecutor then began to place on the record the proposed factual basis for the plea, which we repeat at length: Your Honor, at about 7:40 a.m. on July 30th, '02, Jersey City police were called to 10 Fox Place in Jersey City. When they arrived there, they found the, they found the three lifeless bodies of Bernadette Seajatan, Sharon Yassim and Marilyn [sic] Hassan. Mrs. Hassan is the wife of the Defendant.
There had been two young boys at home who basically found the bodies of their mother, aunt and grandmother.
The police initially spoke to Lynette Foo who was the sister of one of the victims. She explained to the police who had been living at that address and it was the three deceased women as well as the Defendant and two other, the two other husbands of the two women.
On speaking with the two other husbands, Your Honor, it became clear that the morning of the incident the other two men had left the home to go to work at about 5:30 or six o'clock in the morning and had left when everybody else in the house, that being the three victims, the two young boys and Mr. Hassan were still asleep, or so they thought, in the home.
At some point, Judge, as I said the husbands of the other two victims were spoken to. They were not believed to be involved in the incident.
When police spoke with the sister of Mr. Hassan, who lived in Philadelphia, they learned that Mrs. Hassan had been having problems -- they learned the same things from both victims and, victim and Defendant's friends and family, that there had certainly been conflict between victim and Defendant concerning religious, religious beliefs and how their two children, with whom Defendant's wife was pregnant should be raised.
That conflict extended to Mr. Hassan, Marilyn [sic] Hassan's mother and sister as well who seemed to be putting pressure on their daughter and sister to leave Mr. Hassan.
When the police spoke to Mr. Hassan's sister, they learned that at some point Mr. Hassan had been staying with his sister in Philadelphia, had borrowed a car and then moved back home with his family in Jersey City.
The morning of the incident, Mr. Hassan left Jersey City, Judge, apparently after the homicides, drove his car back to Philadelphia, left it at his sister's home, and then took a train back up to New York and then took public transportation, Your Honor, I think it was an Amtrak train from New York City up to Buffalo. He was arrested as he attempted to cross the Canadian border.
Again when detectives spoke with his sister, ultimately Mr. Hassan's sister indicated to the police that at about, I think it was 6:30 on the morning, 6:50 a.m. on the morning of the homicide, Your Honor, that Mr. Hassan had called her and said "I did something crazy. I stabbed Marilyn [sic]. I don't believe I did something like that."
Your Honor, with reference to the autopsies, the autopsy of Bernadette Seajatan performed by the State Medical Examiner, indicated that she was found with two stab wounds to the neck, four stab wounds to the chest, four stab wounds to the abdomen, one stab, one wound to her right flank, one wound to the left flank, one stab wound to the left torso, a stab wound to the back of her neck, one to the upper back, one to the mid-back, one to the hip and buttocks region, three incised wounds to the right hand, four to the left wrist and also one to the left thigh.
Your Honor, the cause of Bernadette Seajatan's death was multiple stab and incised wounds.
The manner of her death, homicide.
With reference to Sharon Yassim, Your Honor, she was also examined by the State Medical Examiner's Office. She was found to have multiple sharp force wounds. Those included ten stab wounds and five superficial cut wounds and defense wounds to her right hand.
She had internal injuries including severance to the right external jugular vein, the right internal carotid artery, as well as incised wound of the right ventricle of heart, diaphragm, large bowel and liver.
Your Honor, Sharon Yassim, with reference to Mrs. Yassim, the cause of her death was also multiple stab wounds and the manner of her death was found to be homicide.
And, Your Honor, Marilyn [sic] Hassan, who is the wife or was the wife of the Defendant, Mr. Hassan, Your Honor, at her autopsy the Medical Examiner found approximately fifteen stab wounds of the torso and neck with penetrations of the trachea, lung, live [sic], kidney, inferior vena cava, and uterus. A neck hematoma. Lungs with hemorrhage.
And a uterus with male fetus and female fetus approximately sixteen weeks gestational age.
Your Honor, there were also abrasive and incised wounds found upon Marilyn [sic] Hassan.
The cause of Marilyn [sic] Hassan's death was found to be stab wounds of the torso and neck.
And the manner of death, homicide.
At that juncture, the prosecutor and defense counsel agreed that an adequate factual basis for the plea had been placed on the record and defense counsel represented that defendant was ...