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State v. Townes

April 20, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
LAMONT TOWNES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 95-01-0128.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 1, 2009

Before Judges C.L. Miniman, Baxter and King.

Defendant, Lamont Townes, appeals from an October 30, 2007 order that denied his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). The trial judge rejected defendant's various claims as meritless. We agree, and affirm the October 30, 2007 dismissal of defendant's PCR petition.

I.

The State's proofs elicited during defendant's 1996 jury trial established that on October 29, 1994, brothers Gregory and Jeffrey Jackson were robbed at gunpoint, and Roberto Esquilin was shot to death at point blank range by two men wielding a nine millimeter handgun and a shotgun. After locating the vehicle the two assailants were driving, police traced it to Yolanda Mikell, who informed police that she had loaned the vehicle to defendant, who is her nephew.

Mikell testified at trial that on the day she lent defendant and co-defendant Lionel Miller the car, Miller was in possession a nine millimeter handgun. Police apprehended defendant, who gave a statement acknowledging his involvement with Miller in the crimes at issue. The State also presented the testimony of Jerry Clyburn, who testified that he was with Miller and defendant on the day in question, and remained in the car's back seat "scared to death" while defendant and Miller shot Esquilin. Defendant testified that he was seated in the car while Miller and Clyburn shot Esquilin, and had no prior knowledge that they intended to do so.

On February 14, 1996, the jury found defendant guilty of murder, armed robbery and related weapons offenses. The judge sentenced him on March 29, 1996 to a term of life imprisonment, of which thirty-five years was to be served before parole eligibility. We affirmed his conviction on direct appeal. State v. Townes, No. A-5590-95 (App. Div. April 9, 1999). In doing so, we rejected defendant's arguments that the jury instructions on identification and accomplice liability were defective, and that the prosecutor's summation was inflammatory and denied him a fair trial. Id. at 12.*fn1

On February 16, 2000, defendant filed a pro se petition for PCR, which was dismissed without prejudice by order of May 25, 2001, because the petition failed to state a basis upon which post-conviction relief could be granted. Not until January 19, 2007, did defendant, with counsel, file an amended petition. Some three months later, he filed a pro se motion seeking the recusal of the PCR judge, who was also the judge who had presided at his 1996 trial.

In a comprehensive and well-reasoned oral opinion, the judge denied the recusal motion and the PCR petition. On appeal, defendant raises the following claims:

I. THE LOWER COURT ORDER MUST BE REVERSED SINCE DEFENDANT RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL.

A. Trial counsel failed to request a charge on lesser included offenses.

B. Trial counsel failed to request an appropriate charge on accomplice liability.

C. Trial counsel failed to request a charge on self-defense.

D. Trial counsel failed to investigate Walter Lambert and failed to present him ...


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