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State v. Sullivan

May 12, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 05-06-0559.

Per curiam.



Submitted: January 27, 2010

Before Judges Cuff, C.L. Miniman and Waugh.

Defendant Dexter Sullivan and three others were involved in a home invasion. At the time of the incident, defendant was seventeen years old. Following waiver of Family Part jurisdiction, a jury found defendant guilty of second degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count One); second degree conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (Count Two); second degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2 (Count Three); and second degree conspiracy to commit burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2 (Count Four).*fn1 At sentencing, the trial judge merged Count Two with Count One and Count Four with Count Three and imposed a nine-year term of imprisonment with an 85% No Early Release Act*fn2 (NERA) period of parole ineligibility on Count One and a concurrent term of five years imprisonment on Count Three. The appropriate penalties and assessments were also imposed. We now affirm.

On April 14, 2005, Maria Rodriguez was driving when she saw defendant, Albert Stanley, and Damien Vantull walking along the street in the Society Hill section of Franklin Park. The three males, whom Rodriguez knew from the neighborhood, asked her for a ride to a friend's house where they could "get some weed." Rodriguez agreed and they proceeded to the friend's house. As Rodriguez drove the group back to Society Hill, defendant suggested they stop at the home of Brooks Hanson, Jr. to find more marijuana. Defendant had prior problems with Hanson, Jr. and stated "he wanted to do a jux," meaning he wanted to rob him.

When the group arrived at Hanson, Jr.'s condominium, Stanley retrieved a .25 caliber automatic handgun from the trunk of Rodriguez's car. Defendant, Stanley, and Rodriguez approached the front door while Vantull remained at the bottom of the steps as lookout. Rodriguez knocked on the door and when asked who was there, she provided a false name. She then walked away, leaving defendant and Stanley at the door.

The intended target's father, Brooks Hanson, Sr., opened the front door and came "tumbling out." Hanson, Sr. had a prosthetic leg and required a wheelchair for most of his mobility. Stanley placed the gun to Hanson, Sr.'s head and defendant entered the condominium.

A neighbor heard the commotion, opened her front door, and observed the scene from about ten to twelve feet away. The neighbor could see that one African-American male had pushed Hanson, Sr. against his door, and another person was inside the home. After a few seconds, the neighbor locked her door and called 9-1-1. While on the phone, the neighbor witnessed from her window the two males running down the front steps and towards the street. She observed their clothing, height, age, and facial characteristics, and relayed this information to the 9-1-1 operator.

After ending the phone call, the neighbor waited outside with the visibly shaken Hanson, Sr. Once the police arrived, the neighbor described the clothing worn by the two males and the direction in which they fled.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez had returned to her car and picked up defendant, Stanley, and Vantull as she exited the complex. Rodriguez drove down the street to Delar Park. Defendant and Vantull exited the car and began walking. Stanley and Rodriguez placed the gun in the trunk and joined the others in the park. While walking, defendant displayed to the group the wallet, cash, and cellular phones he had taken from a safe in the Hanson residence. After he split the cash proceeds, the group noticed a police officer on foot in the park. Stanley promptly discarded his black T-shirt in the bushes and left the group.

Detective Sergeant Kenneth Williams of the Franklin Township Police Department was dispatched to Delar Park at approximately 12:19 p.m. He observed two African-American males and one Hispanic female, later identified as defendant, Vantull, and Rodriguez, in a wooded area. Vantull turned his black sweatshirt inside out to make it appear gray. Defendant discarded his black T-shirt, exposing a red T-shirt he had on underneath. Williams and another officer stopped and frisked the three individuals and found two cellular phones in defendant's possession. Rodriguez lied and stated that she did not know the others, so the officers let her leave.

The officers who remained at the condominium complex were then notified that Vantull and defendant had been apprehended. The officers informed the neighbor that the police had "caught two people," whom they wanted the neighbor and Hanson, Sr. to identify. The officers then drove Hanson, Sr. and the neighbor to Delar Park. The ride took about three minutes. From inside the car, the neighbor identified the two males based on their clothing, the face of one of the males, and the other male's hairstyle. Hanson, Sr. likewise made a positive identification of defendant.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Darren Russo checked the license plate on Rodriguez's car, and learned the car was owned by her mother, Sylvie Vardanian. Around 4:30 p.m., Russo obtained Vardanian's verbal consent to search the car. Inside the trunk, the police found a cooler bag which contained a handgun, magazine, and bullets. Neither defendant, Vantull, Stanley, nor Rodriguez had a valid permit for the weapon.

Detective Gregory Borlan questioned defendant that afternoon at the police station. In the presence of defendant's mother, Borlan advised him of his Miranda*fn3 rights, and both defendant and his mother signed a form waiving these rights. During the questioning, defendant gave conflicting stories, and his mother eventually left the room frustrated. Borlan asked the mother if he could continue the interview, to which the mother replied, "I don't care what you do anymore." Borlan then proceeded to take defendant's formal statement which concluded at 7:44 p.m.

About ten minutes later, defendant offered to show the police where he discarded Hanson, Sr.'s wallet in Delar Park. Detective William Ziarkoski took defendant to the park, and at defendant's direction, Ziarkoski retrieved the wallet from some bushes along a fence.

After defendant's arrest, the State moved to transfer jurisdiction of defendant from the Family Part to the Law Division. The Family Part judge conducted a hearing and transferred jurisdiction. A grand jury indicted defendant on six ...

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