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State v. Brown

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


August 3, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM BROWN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 95-04-0412.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued March 16, 2009

Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.

Following a jury trial, defendant William Brown was convicted of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a). On January 31, 1997, the trial judge denied defendant's motion for a new trial and sentenced defendant to a term of life imprisonment with a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility. Defendant appealed and we affirmed. State v. Brown, No. A-388- 97T4 (App. Div. July 1, 1999). The Supreme Court denied certification. 162 N.J. 487 (1999).

Defendant filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) on October 3, 2001. After defendant was appointed counsel, he filed a supplemental PCR petition and certification on July 31, 2006. Judge Ahto denied defendant's PCR motion, and defendant now appeals. We affirm.

On November 4, 1994, Tanya*fn1 Hairston, then thirty years old, was found dead in her Morristown apartment. The factual recitation contained in our earlier opinion follows:

Defendant and his former girlfriend, Tanya Hairston ended their two-year relationship several months before the fatal incident. It had been a stormy relationship marked with bitter charges of infidelity. Tanya's family sought to prevent defendant from seeing her and defendant believed her brothers were out to get him. On November 4, 1994, defendant had visited Tanya earlier and left, but returned with two men. Defendant had recruited the two men to stand guard outside of Tanya's apartment while he was inside. After defendant ingested some cocaine, he began to quarrel with Tanya. Defendant began to look for lost train tickets that he needed to travel to New York. He was unable to find them and became angry and cursed at Tanya. In response, she threw an aerosol can which grazed defendant's shoulders. The argument escalated into violence. Defendant charged at Tanya, wrapped his hands around her neck and choked her. He also inflicted incapacitating internal injuries. Tanya's body went limp. Defendant left decedent's apartment and took a taxi cab to Madison and then a bus to New York City.

Later, he telephoned his mother from New York and learned that Tanya was dead. Defendant tried to gain admittance to a veteran's administration hospital in Manhattan. While there, he revealed to the authorities that he killed Tanya. He was arrested and gave a statement to the Morristown Police detailing the events.

The medical examiner performed an autopsy on Tanya. He found she sustained a two and one-half inch laceration to her liver from a blunt force trauma, causing massive internal bleeding. In addition, her hyoid bone in her neck was fractured and there were lacerations on her neck. These injuries were consistent with manual strangulation. The cause of death was found to be blunt force trauma to the abdomen and mechanical asphyxia due to strangulation. The State also procured several witnesses who testified about Tanya's character for non-violence and peacefulness.

Defendant presented the testimony of Doctor Arnaldo Apolito, a psychiatrist, who testified that defendant was suffering from a substance-induced psychotic disorder at the time of the murder, and was thus unable to appreciated [sic] the nature of his behavior and the wrongfulness of his conduct.

Defendant's daughter testified that defendant and Tanya argued frequently and that Tanya would break dishes by throwing them around the apartment. She claimed that on one occasion Tanya threw a remote control at defendant and on another occasion, Tanya tried to prevent defendant from leaving the residence by pushing him away from the door. She also testified that Tanya once confronted defendant's former girlfriend and began to fight with her.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. He acknowledged he frequently quarreled with Tanya. He testified he would leave the residence whenever Tanya became upset. Defendant admitted he strangled Tanya until she lay prostrate on the floor and that he left the apartment not knowing if she was breathing.

[Brown, supra, No. A-388-97T4 (Slip Op. at 2-4).]

On direct appeal, defendant raised the following issues:

POINT I:

SINCE THE TRIAL COURT ERRONEOUSLY FAILED TO ADDRESS THE JURY QUESTION PERTAINING TO WHETHER "PROVOCATION MEAN[S] AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OR CAN PROVOCATION BE OVER A PERIOD OF TIME," DEFENDANT'S MURDER CONVICTION MUST BE REVERSED. (Not Raised Below)

POINT II:

SINCE THE SEQUENTIAL "ACQUIT FIRST" JURY INSTRUCTIONS AND VERDICT SHEET ERRONEOUSLY TOLD THE JURY TO DELIBERATE ON PASSION/PROVOCATION MANSLAUGHTER ONLY AFTER FINDING DEFENDANT NOT GUILTY OF MURDER, DEFENDANT'S MURDER CONVICTION MUST BE REVERSED. (Not Raised Below)

POINT III:

AT THE VERY LEAST, DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE TO A LIFETIME OF IMPRISONMENT WAS EXCESSIVE AND ERRONEOUS.

Defendant's pro se PCR petition raised the following points:

Point I:

TRIAL COUNSEL'S FAILURE TO ADEQUATELY PREPARE AND EXERCISE NORMAL CUSTOMARY SKILLS IN ESTABLISHING DEFENDANT'S INNOCENCE, AND THE LACK OF ADEQUATE CLIENT CONSULTATION COUNSEL'S [SIC] RESULTED IN GROSS IGNORANCE OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS FOR DEFENSE TACTICS, SO UNDERMINED THE PROPER FUNCTION OF THE ADVERSARIAL PROCESS THAT THE TRIAL CANNOT BE RELIED ON AS HAVING PRODUCED A JUST RESULT; IN VIOLATION OF DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO FUNDAMENTALLY FAIR TRIAL WITH EFFECTIVE REPRESENTATION. U.S.C.A. CONST. AMEND. 5, 6, & 14; N.J. CONST. ART. I, PAR. 10.

Point II:

THE TRIAL COURT'S CHARGE TO THE JURY ERRONEOUSLY AND IMPERMISSIBLY PLACED THE BURDEN OF PROOF ONTO PETITIONER WILLIAM BROWN, DEPRIVING HIM OF A FAIR TRIAL.

Point III:

THE TRIAL COURT FAILED TO INSTRUCT THE JURORS THAT THE INSANITY DEFENSE WOULD APPLY IF PETITIONER DID NOT KNOW THAT HIS CONDUCT WAS MORALLY WRONG DEPRIVED [SIC] PETITIONER OF THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND A FAIR TRIAL. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. V, VI, XIV, N.J. CONST. (1947) ART. I, PARS. 1, 9, 10.

Point IV:

PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT DEPRIVED WILLIAM BROWN OF DUE PROCESS RIGHTS WARRANTING A REVERSAL OF DEFENDANT'S CONVICTIONS; IN VIOLATION OF DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO A FUNDAMENTALLY FAIR TRIAL PURSUANT TO HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. U.S.C.A. CONST. AMEND. 5th, 6th, & 14th; N.J. CONST. ART. I, PAR. 7, 8, & 10.

Point V:

THE DEFENDANT'S 14th AMENDMENT RIGHTS GIVING HIM EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW WERE VIOLATED WHEN HE, A [SIC] AFRICAN AMERICAN WAS SUBJECTED TO A DISCRIMINATORY PROFILING AND VINDICTIVE SELECTION FOR PROSECUTION. AND THE DEGREE OF THE INTRUSION VIOLATED DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO BE INDICTED BY AN INDEPENDENT AND INFORMED GRAND JURY IN VIOLATION OF THE SIXTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ART. I PARAGRAPH 8 OF THE N.J. CONSTITUTION.

Point VI:

WILLIAM BROWN WAS DENIED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF APPELLATE COUNSEL.

In support of his pro se brief, defendant also included a certification alleging that trial counsel: 1) did not "[f]ile and/or aggressively advocate necessary motions, before during or after trial;" 2) did not "aggressively" cross-examine the State's witnesses; 3) did not "cast doubt on the junk science testified to by the State's Expert Witness;" 4) did not properly "follow-up on information given to him and investigate" potential witnesses; 5) refused to meet with defendant to discuss "trial strategies;" 6) used a faulty trial strategy when deciding to "mount a serious attack on the credibility of the State's witnesses;" 7) failed to call "the Doctor from the VA Hospital" as a defense witness; and 8) was aware of the prosecutor's "pattern of taking all case[s] that involve African-Americans and other poor classes of people before the County Grand Jury seeking the highest degree of murder offenses" and failed to "file the appropriate motions to dismiss the indictment . . . ."

Defendant also alleged that he was further prejudiced because: 1) the jury pool "was so envenomed by massive and sustained prejudicial pre-trial publicity about [his] having the AID virus [sic] forming the basis for [his] alleged action, as to preclude any reasonable likelihood that a fair jury trial could be impaneled;" 2) a "great deal of material" the prosecution used in its case "was spread throughout the community prior to trial through news media of every form;" and 3) the prosecutor "and their agents" spread "adverse lies about [his] having AIDS whereas [sic] to contaminate the jurors, by releasing unconfirmed medical information and prejudicial pre- trial statements that were improper and unethical . . . ." After PCR counsel was appointed to represent defendant, he filed a supplemental PCR petition raising the following points:

POINT I.

THE DEFENDANT'S CLAIMS ARE NOT BARRED BY THE PROVISIONS OF R. 3:22 AS THEY ASSERT CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES ARISING UNDER THE STATE AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONS

POINT II.

THE PETITIONER HAS PROVIDED PRIMA FACIE PROOF THAT HE SUFFERED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL

POINT III.

THE PETITIONER HAS PROVIDED PRIMA FACIE PROOF THAT HE SUFFERED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF APPELLATE COUNSEL

In his decision, Judge Ahto acknowledged the information contained in defendant's supporting documentation but noted that defendant did not specify any of his claims. Rather, defendant made bare bones assertions of trial counsel's failures.

Further, the judge observed that defendant did not specify how the information obtained or the testimony would have "affected the outcome of this case." He found that in reading the trial transcripts, it was "clear to [him] that the defense attorney was prepared." As to defendant's allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, Judge Ahto again noted that defendant did not state "anything that [he could] look to as being the basis for any alleged prosecutorial misconduct." Judge Ahto stated that because defendant's sentence was "as serious as it comes" he reviewed defendant's PCR claim "very closely." The judge found nothing before him that would indicate that "additional contact with Appellate counsel" and trial counsel would have affected the outcome of the case.

Because defendant had not offered any evidence to support the allegations made in his certifications and briefs, Judge Ahto concluded that defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. He then denied defendant's PCR motion. We have carefully reviewed the record and the briefs and we conclude that defendant's arguments are without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). In his carefully crafted opinion, Judge Ahto addressed each issue raised by defendant in depth.

Accordingly, we affirm for the reasons set forth in Judge Ahto's thorough and thoughtful oral opinion of March 8, 2007.

Affirmed.


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