On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 01-02-0231.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 2, 2005
Decided December 29, 2005
Remanded by Supreme Court April 17, 2007
Resubmitted October 20, 2008
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Alvarez.
On April 17, 2007, the Supreme Court remanded for our consideration an unresolved issue remaining in defendant Michael Tucker's direct appeal.*fn1 Defendant had been found guilty by jury of felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3), armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(c). After merger of the armed robbery and weapon possession into the felony murder, defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment with thirty years of parole ineligibility. The Court affirmed the convictions, but directed a remand on whether the admission of testimony that defendant was minimally employed, and was being dunned for an unpaid hospital bill, was error that standing alone, warranted a new trial.
In this opinion, we also address additional issues not reached in our earlier decision,*fn2 namely, allegations of juror misconduct and defendant's challenge to his sentence. We therefore reconsider testimony relating to defendant's financial circumstances, determine whether the alleged juror misconduct constitutes reversible error, and assess the lawfulness of defendant's sentence. We affirm as to all of these points.
We need not recount the factual scenario that led to defendant's conviction on July 29, 2003, at great length.
Suffice it to say that defendant stabbed his sixty-eight-year-old mother to death while she was seated in a chair. The State's proofs included, among other things, a series of incomplete or contradictory statements defendant made post-Miranda,*fn3 and DNA evidence establishing the presence of his mother's blood on shorts he wore two days before the date he claimed he discovered her body.
When the murder occurred, defendant was unemployed. During his first interview with police, he did not mention taking his mother to a bank on the morning of her murder, or that she then withdrew $3000 in $100 bills. Bank surveillance tapes later obtained by police depict the victim arriving at approximately 9:25 a.m. on June 9, 2000. Defendant is visible behind his mother while dressed in denim shorts. DNA analysis determined that the shorts were stained with traces of his mother's blood. Police found the victim's purse in a bedroom closet in the home she shared with defendant. It contained $747 in cash together with a checkbook and the checkbook register. The final register entry was for a check in the amount of $3000 made out to cash.
The victim's body was not discovered until June 11, 2000, when defendant called 911 and reported that he had just found his mother's bloody corpse. There were no signs of a struggle or forced entry.
Defendant initially claimed that he last saw his mother alive two days earlier, on Friday, June 9, when he drove her home from the grocery store after which he left to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, Tracy Stepney. After police drove defendant to headquarters, they administered Miranda ...