On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 87-04-0326.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 24, 2008
Before Judges Fisher and Baxter.
Defendant Maurice Romero appeals from a March 8, 2007 order that denied his second petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We reverse and remand for a hearing on the merits of defendant's PCR claims.
On August 4, 1988, defendant was convicted, following a trial by jury, of murder, felony murder, aggravated sexual assault, burglary and theft. The evidence presented at trial established that on December 3, 1986, defendant and two co-defendants broke into the home of an elderly couple and raped and beat the wife. She died within minutes. Her husband, who was confined to a hospital bed in the home, was beaten but survived even after a co-defendant returned to the house five hours later and set it afire. On direct appeal, defendant raised the following claims:
I. THE JURY VERDICT AS TO COUNTS I AND II WAS AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.
II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT INSTRUCTED THE JURORS TO ENGAGE IN DELIBERATION AT THE HOUR OF 7:00 P.M. ON A THURSDAY NIGHT.
III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT INSTRUCTED THE JURY THAT CO-DEFENDANT CASEY TERRY'S FAILURE TO TESTIFY IN THE CASE SHOULD NOT BE HELD AGAINST EITHER THE PROSECUTOR OR THE DEFENDANT.
IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN, DESPITE THE OBJECTIONS OF DEFENSE COUNSEL, IT READ IN OPEN COURT WITH THE MEDIA PRESENT PORTIONS OF THE CO-DEFENDANT CASEY TERRY'S STATEMENT.
V. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT INSTRUCTED THE JURY THAT THE DEFENDANT WOULD BE LIABLE FOR AIDING AND ABETTING THE ACTS OF CO-DEFENDANT CASEY TERRY.
VI. THE TRIAL COURT'S IMPROPER INSTRUCTIONS REGARDING ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY CLEARLY ...