On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 01-12-3704-I.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Collester and Graves.
After a bench trial before Judge Irving J. Snyder, defendant was found guilty of the following offenses: first-degree murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2); second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); third-degree possession of a weapon (knife) for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d); third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b). Defendant was sentenced on September 19, 2003, to an aggregate prison term of fifty years with a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility.
At a Land hearing, State v. Land, 124 N.J. Super. 303 (1973), certif. denied, 66 N.J. 323 (1974), on June 9, 2003, Judge Snyder determined that the defendant had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial. The bench trial commenced on June 10, 2003 before Judge Snyder. After a Wade*fn1 hearing, the court held that identifications made of the defendant by two witnesses from a photo array were admissible. Defendant was represented by counsel both at the Wade hearing and throughout the trial.
At trial the State presented testimony that the murder of seventeen-year-old Karon Robinson was the result of a drug turf war between Robinson and defendant, twenty-five-year-old Anthony Brown. The crime occurred about 4:30 p.m. on January 9, 1999, outside Spencer's Caribbean Lounge (Spencer's) on Liberty Street in Camden. Pamela Stephens testified she lived across the street about forty-five feet from Spencer's. On January 9, 1999, she saw two individuals in a "scuffle" on the porch of Spencer's. She did not recognize either man but said both men were over six feet tall and that one had a Jamaican accent. She said the men were pushing each other and moved from the porch to the street. The man with the Jamaican accent reached into his waistband and "went with his hand to the body of the person he was scuffling with." The other man fell to the ground, and the man with the Jamaican accent pointed the gun toward the victim's head and shot the fallen man on the ground. Ms. Stephens recalled hearing one to three shots. The Jamaican man then ran away, and Ms. Stephens immediately went back into her house. She testified she did not get a good look at the gunman's face and was unable to make an identification.
Camden Police Officer Tracy Hall responded to a "gun call" shortly after 4:30 at Mount Ephraim and Liberty Streets. When she arrived, she saw the person she recognized as Karon Robinson face down on the sidewalk. He had been shot in the head and was obviously dead. After the emergency medical responders arrived, Officer Hall roped off the crime scene and searched for shell casings and other evidence. Shell casings from a .45 caliber handgun as well as a knife handle and knife blade were found on the porch of Spencer's Caribbean Lounge.
The State called Aaron Blakney, who was a regular patron at Spencer's and knew Karon Robinson well. He said on the afternoon of January 9, 1999, Karon was arguing with a man known as "Gargalore" over "turf" for selling drugs. He heard defendant tell Karon that he "didn't want no trouble" and that he "don't want to go to jail for the rest of his life. He don't want to have to kill none of us." When Blakney left Spencer's, Karon and defendant were arguing on the front porch.
Reginald Medley, another regular at Spencer's, testified that he knew defendant by his nickname "Gargalore" and saw him four or five times a week on Liberty Street. Medley said that defendant "used to sell wet to us." Medley said that he arrived at Spencer's in the morning and went in and out of the tavern all day long selling "weed" inside and on the street. He said Karon was upset because defendant was selling "loose bags" and told defendant he couldn't "hustle" drugs in the area.
Defendant said he wanted to sell dime bags of marijuana on the corner, but Karon did not want him selling there since he and his associates were also selling dime bags there. Medley said that the argument between Karon and defendant escalated because Karon kept "nagging at" defendant. Medley could not specifically recall what defendant said, but he remembered that he said something about a gun. Earlier in the bar Medley saw the gun's handle in defendant's right pocket, and Medley knew it was a .45 caliber because defendant had "flashed it to us before." Medley was inside Spencer's watching a football game when he heard a thump and then three shots. He "peeped" out the door, walked out onto the porch, and saw Karon lying in the street and defendant running with a gun in his hand which Medley said was the same .45 caliber he had seen defendant waving around earlier.
Kenneth Warren also saw Karon and defendant arguing at Spencer's on January 9, 1999. He was very friendly with Karon and also familiar with "Gargalore" over the past year. He said the argument was about defendant "being in the area." Warren testified that the argument developed into a fistfight and that defendant pushed Karon off him and shot him, causing Karon to fall into the street. He said that defendant then walked up to Karon and fired more shots into him.
Warren testified that after the shooting he went to tell Karon's mother about it. Three days later, he provided a statement to police and identified defendant's photo from an array as the person he knew as "Gargalore" and had shot Karon.
Leron Green, Karon's cousin, also witnessed the argument in Spencer's. When asked whether he knew anything about anyone dealing marijuana on the corner of Liberty and Mount Ephraim Streets, Leron replied, "that's what they were arguing about." He described the argument as calm at first, but after they stepped outside, they started tussling. He said that Gargalore swung a knife and cut Karon's jacket. He also saw the knife break. When defendant and Gargalore moved off the porch Leron decided to run and get Karon's mother. After he heard the first of two or three shots, he stopped, turned around and saw Karon falling. Leron was about ten or twelve feet away and started ...