On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 02-01-0036.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Payne, Sapp-Peterson and Messano.
Defendant Charles Rashid appeals from the judgment of conviction and sentence imposed following a jury trial at which he was convicted of murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d); fourth-degree possession of a weapon under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful use, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d); two counts of third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(1) and (b)(4); and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1).
The crimes for which defendant was convicted arose out of the slaying of his wife, Orquidea Tejada-Rashid.*fn1 The evidence presented to the jury revealed that the couple married in 1999, and one child, a son, was born of the union. From its inception, the marriage was beset with arguments. By 2001, the tensions between the couple had intensified. However, there was no evidence presented of any ongoing physical violence between the couple. According to defendant, on the day of the murder, October 27, 2001, he had been tiling the kitchen of their home located in Piscataway. He and Orquidea began to argue, although Orquidea did most of the talking. She was angry, threatened to harm their son if defendant left her, and at one point during the argument, pushed him when he attempted to leave. The argument continued and he eventually killed her as a result of hitting her and/or throwing a hammer at her. Later that day he disposed of her body, placing it in a dumpster located in the Bronx. He had transported the body to the Bronx in Orquidea's Toyota. He then returned to Piscataway.
The next morning, Sunday, defendant went to the Piscataway Police Department to report that his wife was missing. While there, police received a telephone call from the Bronx Homicide Squad stating that they had discovered a body after receiving a 9-1-1 call from an employee checking on his employer's dumpsters just after 7:10 a.m. that morning. The police believed the victim was Orquidea based upon a high school ring the victim was wearing on which her name was inscribed.
When the Bronx police learned that at the same time they were on the phone with Piscataway police, Orquidea's husband was at the station reporting her missing, they decided to travel to Piscataway to speak to him. Detective Raymond Byrne (Byrne), along with Detective Michael Donnelly (Donnelly) and two other detectives, arrived at the Piscataway Police Station around 2:00 p.m. When they arrived, they noticed a maroon Mazda Tribute that had license plate numbers that matched the ones their investigation revealed belonged to defendant. Donnelly noticed what appeared to be dry blood smeared on the rear driver's side car door. Donnelly next called Byrne's attention to a pair of blue, plastic gloves on the front floor of the vehicle.
Once inside the police headquarters, Byrne reviewed the missing persons report. He informed defendant that Orquidea's Toyota Camry had been found in the Bronx and that a person matching Orquidea's description had also been found in the Bronx. He asked defendant a few questions about Orquidea's disappearance and thought defendant appeared to be "very helpful."
After consulting with his supervisor about the next step to take, Byrne asked defendant whether he was willing to come to the Bronx and defendant agreed. Byrne also asked defendant to ride to New York in his car while another detective drove defendant's car to New York. Defendant agreed to this arrangement. During the drive to New York, defendant provided some general information about himself and also revealed that he had Orquidea's cellular phone and Social Security card with him. He also told the detectives that his sister lived in the Bronx.
Defendant and the detectives arrived at the 4-0 Police Precinct (Precinct), located in the Mott Haven/Port Morris Section of the Bronx, around 5:00 p.m. Detective John Greaney, who drove defendant's car to New York, told Byrne that he noticed what appeared to be blood on the steering wheel and gearshift of defendant's Tribute. Defendant was escorted to an interview room containing a table, some chairs, filing cabinets and a T.V., where he remained while the officers conferred. Defendant was not handcuffed but there were about four to five officers in the same room and they all watched a game together.
Byrne initiated the questioning related to Orquidea's disappearance, and after he had asked a couple of questions about Orquidea's movements on the last day defendant saw her, defendant's demeanor changed. Byrne reported the change in demeanor to his supervisor and expressed his intention to go back to the interview room to just "hit him with it." He returned to the room with Detective Greaney, who had been present when the questioning initially commenced. Detective Greaney administered Miranda*fn2 warnings to defendant and the questioning resumed. Byrne left the interview once again but when he returned a short time later he told defendant, "hey, Charles, hey, your wife's dead." At that point, "[defendant] went back in his chair and he said[,] what? And I said . . . your wife's dead. . . . [Y]ou know she's dead. And I leaned over the table and pointed to him. I said because you fuckin[g] killed her."
Byrne then described defendant's reaction to the accusation:
He went back into his chair. He started, beads of sweat formed on his head. He started sweating profusely and he indicated that he wanted to vomit. He started dry-heaving, and I took the wastepaper basket and held it under him. He said I know. I said you know she is dead. And at that point he said, when he gained his composure after a minute or two he just said, he looked at me and he actually seemed relieved. He let out a big sigh and he said I knew you guys would get me.
At that point, defendant explained to the detectives that he had been tiling the couple's kitchen the previous day when he and Orquidea got into some kind of argument. Defendant told him that Orquidea kept nagging him so he threw a hammer that was in his hand at her. He agreed to provide a written statement, which he drafted himself.
Later that evening after defendant finished writing the statement, he voluntarily provided a videotaped statement as well. Also that evening, while still at the Precinct, defendant signed consent forms authorizing searches of his home and his Mazda Tribute. The crime scene unit took samples from the Mazda Tribute, specifically from the steering wheel, gearshift, and rear door. Based upon information police received from defendant, they also recovered the murder weapon defendant had discarded at his place of employment and a board to which nails were attached from a garbage can in Newark. The search of the marital residence revealed visible blood spatters in the "kitchen and hall area[,]" some of which were on the ceiling in the "beginning of the hallway closer to the kitchen than the back door" and on the ceiling "between the bath and the bedroom[.]"
Forensic analysis revealed the presence of blood on one of the nails in the board recovered from the garbage can, on the steering wheel and gearshift of defendant's vehicle, and in the swabs taken from the ceiling. The blood samples matched Orquidea's DNA profile. An autopsy performed by Dr. Zoya Shmuter (Shmuter) disclosed that Orquidea had a "black left eye, which means that it was bleeding of the soft tissue. And she had five lacerations of the face and head and she had multiple abrasions on both sides of her face." Shmuter testified that based on the progress of rigor mortis and lividity, Orquidea's time of death was probably around noon the day before her body was found. She also testified that Orquidea's injuries were consistent with injuries caused by a blunt instrument.
At the close of trial, the court charged the jury and, of significance to this appeal, instructed the jury on the elements of murder, including that the State was required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant did not act in the heat of passion resulting from a reasonable provocation. The instruction did not include a statement from the court that if the jury found that Orquidea's treatment towards defendant constituted a course of ill treatment that could induce a homicidal reaction in a person of ordinary firmness and that the treatment was such that it could lead an accused to reasonably believe that such conduct would continue, the jury could find provocation.
The jury convicted defendant of all charges. He received an aggregate sentence of sixty-nine years imprisonment, with an eighty-five percent mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. This appeal followed.
On appeal defendant raises the following points for our consideration:
THE TRIAL JUDGE'S FAILURE TO INSTRUCT THE JURORS THAT A CONTINUING COURSE OF ILL TREATMENT COULD PROVIDE THE BASIS FOR A VERDICT OF PASSION/PROVOCATION MANSLAUGHTER DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND A FAIR TRIAL. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VI, ...