On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment Nos. 04-10-01268, 04-10-01269.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 26, 2009
Before Judges Rodríguez, Reisner and Yannotti.
Defendant, Jonathan A. Black, appeals from his convictions, following a jury trial, of two counts each of first degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; and third degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b. These convictions were based on armed robberies of a Quick Chek convenience store and a 7-Eleven store, which occurred thirty minutes apart. Judge Joseph P. Perfilio merged the convictions for first degree robbery and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose on each indictment and imposed two consecutive fourteen-year terms subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2 (NERA). The judge imposed two concurrent five-year terms for each unlawful possession of a weapon conviction. Therefore, defendant was sentenced to an aggregated twenty-eight year term with an eighty-five percent NERA parole disqualifier. We affirm.
On April 20, 2004, at approximately 12:22 a.m., two masked black males armed with handguns robbed a 7-Eleven store located on Stuyvesant Avenue in Union. Adel Hannaragaie, a 7-Eleven manager, and his friend, Anwar Menawy, were in the back of the store eating ice cream. When the robbers entered the store, they went directly to the back area where the men were located.
Both robbers were armed with black handguns and had their weapons "out" during the entire incident.
One robber, the taller and skinnier of the two, waited with Menawy in the back. That robber wore a short-sleeve white t-shirt, long pants, work boots, and a mask. The shorter robber had "long black braids" and was wearing work boots, a black jacket, short blue jeans, and gloves. The men stole the money from two cash registers and left the store. The store security cameras recorded the incident but provided no identifying information.
Approximately thirty minutes later, around 1 a.m., two armed, masked, black males entered a Quick Chek store located on Morris Avenue, also in Union. LaRenda Pridgen-Parrish, a shift manager, and Youdelyne Previlon were working at the time. One robber, who was skinnier than the other wore blue jean shorts, a white t-shirt, Timberland boots, gloves, and a black face mask. He took Previlon behind the counter. As he did so, he knocked over a "battery stand" and his gun fired into the ceiling. He pushed Previlon to the floor. The robber then had Parrish take all the money out of the cash register and he placed it in a bag.
The other robber was light-skinned, had shoulder-length dreadlocks, and was "more muscular" than the skinnier robber. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, blue jean shorts, brown Timberland boots, a black mask, and no gloves. While Parrish attempted to open the register, the muscular robber stood on the other side of the counter, threatening to kill her if she did not "hurry up." He was carrying a larger gun than the other robber. During the incident a customer, Rodrigo Patrick Erazo, entered the store. The muscular robber pointed his gun at Erazo and told him to get on the floor or he would be killed.
The security cameras and VCR were not activated at the time of the robbery and did not record the incident. Police Sergeant Harry Capko responded to the scene and found a shell casing behind the counter. None of the witnesses remembered seeing a car at the scene of either robbery.
During a robbery at a Foot Locker store six days later, a customer tried to enter the store but was turned away. The customer noticed that "a 1995 Mitsubishi Galant, silver, with gray tinted windows, and damage to the right front fender and [a broken right front] headlight" was partially blocking the exit. Other witnesses reported that of the two robbers, one was wearing an "olive green military jacket," and the other wore "a black hooded sweatshirt."
Two days after the Foot Locker robbery, at approximately 12:23 a.m., Officers Pietro DiGena and Barry Cohen observed a vehicle matching the witnesses' description. The officers stopped the silver Mitsubishi. They instructed the four occupants of the vehicle to roll down their windows "to see better into the car." Through the driver's window, the officers saw that "the front passengers were passing something back to the rear seat passengers," which suggested "they were trying to conceal something." The officers instructed the occupants to stop their movements. The movements stopped only after several requests.
The police officers determined that defendant was the driver of the Mitsubishi and was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. The front-seat passenger was later identified as Kevin Drake. He was wearing a green military jacket.
The officers used flashlights to illuminate the interior of the Mitsubishi. They saw "masks and gloves on the floor of the vehicle." The occupants were taken out of the Mitsubishi oneby-one, patted down for weapons, and instructed to sit on the curb.
Officer Frank Marano looked into the rear seat on the passenger side and saw that "the seat cushion was pulled away from the side of the vehicle," which suggested to him that "something may have been hidden." When he pulled on the seat cushion "it popped out." Leaning into the vehicle, Marano saw "the handle of a Colt handgun with the hammer back and the safety off. . . . in the metal work that led into the trunk." Because of the "safety issue" that the weapon might discharge, Marano went around to retrieve the gun through the trunk.
To retrieve the gun, Marano had to move a "speaker box" in the trunk. There he found a second, .45 caliber, semiautomatic handgun on the driver's side in a location identical to that of the first gun. He also found a knife with a six-inch blade in the pocket of the driver's door and defendant's high school identification card under the tire in the wheel well. Defendant told the officers at the scene that he borrowed the Mitsubishi from a friend's mother to go to the movies and to get "prom stuff" the next day.
Officer Michael Sanford later tested the guns and found both were fully operable. A casing test-fired from the Colt .380 automatic handgun matched the .380 casing recovered from the scene of the Quick Chek robbery. Officer Michael ...