On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 06-06-1195.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 30, 2009
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Tried by a jury, defendant Lameek Perry was acquitted of first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and 2C:11-3, and convicted of second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1). He was sentenced to an eight-year term of imprisonment subject to the eighty-five percent parole disqualifier, pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. He appeals, contending that the trial court erred in finding him competent to stand trial, charging flight to the jury, precluding use of the victim-witness' prior convictions, and imposing an excessive sentence. We disagree with all these contentions and affirm.
The victim of the stabbing, Scott Held, was the boyfriend and currently the fiancé of Stacy Trihey, whom defendant befriended in 2005 because of a mutual interest in fashion. According to the State's proofs, on April 6, 2006, at around 8:30 p.m., while Held was at Trihey's Bergenfield home, defendant called Trihey from a pay phone and in a rambling conversation, told her he wanted to come over. Trihey repeatedly told him not to visit and that Held was at her home. She then hung up the telephone, but within a few minutes, defendant called again. When the caller identification system displayed the same telephone number, Trihey just let the call go to her voicemail.
About one hour later, defendant appeared on the upstairs deck of Trihey's house and rang the kitchen doorbell. Held followed Trihey, who through the screen door, told defendant to go home. Defendant ignored the request and repeated that he wanted to talk to her. She again asked that he leave, at which point Held intervened and told defendant to get off the property. Defendant persisted, however, in talking to Trihey. When a final request by Trihey to leave did not succeed, Held stepped out onto the deck, and grabbed defendant by the shoulders to guide him down the stairs to the side yard. Defendant then punched Held with his right hand in the upper chest. The two men then wrestled across the deck, knocking around the garbage cans. Held picked up one of them and threw it at defendant, who then left the property, yelling at Held.
It was at this time when Held first realized he had been stabbed in the same area where defendant had punched him. He felt liquid dripping onto his stomach and when he looked down, he saw a wound on his chest. His shirt ripped and drenched with blood, Held ran into the kitchen and told Trihey to call 9-1-1. Police Officer Owen Rynn responded at around 10:20 p.m. and saw Held, shirtless, bleeding on the kitchen floor holding a bloodstained towel to his chest. Held reported he had been stabbed. Officer Rynn removed the bloodied towel and placed a trauma dressing on the wound to stop the bleeding.
An ambulance arrived within ten minutes and transported Held to Hackensack University Medical Center where a Trauma Code 55, signifying life-threatening injuries with extremely severe trauma, had been called in. En route, paramedics placed a needle in Held's chest to decompress his pneumothorax and keep his lung from collapsing. Upon arrival, Dr. John LoCurto observed that Held had a stab wound in the anterior chest wall, caused by a blade or knife that penetrated about one-and-one-half inches into his chest cavity. According to Dr. LoCurto, the wound created a substantial risk of death, that was averted by the paramedic's needle placed in Held's lung. Although Held eventually fully recovered, he was left with a permanent scar.
Defendant offered a different version of the incident. When Held was leading him toward the stairs, defendant lost his balance, turned around and hit Held in the chest with his forearm. Trying to avoid being pushed down the stairs, defendant engaged Held in a "little tussling match." Held was holding onto defendant's coat with one arm and had the other on defendant's left hand, which was holding a Pathmark bag. Defendant, who worked at Pathmark, had a box cutter in his right front pocket. When he pulled it out, he and Held were in the corner of the deck. Defendant fell over trash cans in that area and Held, who was holding onto him, fell onto the box cutter. Defendant crawled out from under Held, expecting Held to follow him, but he did not. Defendant ran for the stairs and fled. According to defendant, he did not know that Held was hurt until he was arrested the following day. He also denied ever intending to hurt Held, and denied swinging at him or hitting him in the chest.
Evidently crediting the State's proofs, the jury convicted defendant of aggravated assault. This appeal follows.
Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in failing to conduct a competency hearing and that his behavior during trial demonstrated his inability to participate in his defense. We find no merit to these arguments.
Some background is in order. Prior to the commencement of trial, the judge ordered defendant to undergo a competency evaluation at the Ann Klein Forensic Center (AKFC). Pursuant to court order, defendant was evaluated by psychiatrist, Dr. Jung-Hi Lee, who concluded on March 1, 2007, more than nine months before the trial began, that defendant was indeed competent to stand trial. Specifically, Dr. Lee found defendant was "oriented to time, place, and person[,]" had "sophisticated legal knowledge[,]" and understood the charges against him. Furthermore, defendant understood the role of the parties in the case, namely that of the prosecutor to prosecute defendant with evidence garnered from discovery and that of his lawyer to defend him. Defendant was also aware of his right not to testify as well as the ...