On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Indictment No. 98-04-0624.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.
Defendant Miguel Suarez appeals from a Law Division order denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
Tried by jury, jointly with co-defendant Richard Morales, defendant was convicted of multiple charges arising out of a triple homicide, namely second-degree conspiracy to commit armed robbery; second-degree conspiracy to commit murder; first-degree robbery; three counts of first-degree murder; and various weapons offenses.*fn1 After appropriate mergers, defendant was sentenced to three life terms with a ninety-year parole bar. We affirmed the judgment of conviction, finding overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, but remanded for clarification that the No Early Release Act (NERA) did not apply to the murder conviction, and for the court to impose a NERA sentence on the armed robbery charge. State v. Miguel Suarez and Richard Morales, Nos. A-5638-00T4 and A-6768-00T4 (App. Div. May 21, 2004). The Supreme Court denied certification. State v. Suarez, 181 N.J. 547 (2004).
By way of background, we recite the facts underlying defendant's convictions as stated in the Law Division's October 26, 2007 decision denying defendant's PCR petition, as they may be relevant to issues on this appeal:
On October 23, 1997, Guarang Kalsaria (age 11) found three dead bodies in his home. His sister, Nahal Kalsaria, soon arrived home from school. Both children ran to a neighbor's house and called the police. Prior to this, another neighbor had phoned the police regarding a suspicious vehicle she noticed parked illegally between the house and another house. Upon arrival, the police saw the vehicle and occupant, co-defendant Darwin Godoy, was seated inside.
A cellular phone began to ring several times, and the officer noticed up to three different cellular phones within the vehicle. Mr. Godoy was detained by the police.
Later that day, officers responded to the 911 call placed by the children of the residence. Officers found the dead bodies of Ajit Hira, Rejesh Kalsaria, and Bhushan Raval. At trial, Darwin Godoy testified for the State. According to his testimony, co-defendant Dimpy Patel told him he needed someone killed and asked Godoy if he knew anyone. At that point, Godoy introduced Patel to the [defendant]. Godoy testified that he knew the [defendant] because he purchased illegal cell phones from him. On the day of the murders, Godoy supplied the [defendant] with the necessary information to complete the murder. Suarez and co-defendant Morales drove to the home of one of the victims and Godoy followed them in a separate vehicle. Godoy testified that he waited in the car while the [defendant] and Morales went in with gloves, a gun, a bulletproof vest, and duct tape. Godoy pled guilty to murder and two counts of aggravated manslaughter and received a sentence of thirty years imprisonment with thirty years parole ineligibility.
Other witnesses for the State included the [defendant]'s girlfriend, Betsy Tufino, and a George Rivera. Ms. Tufino testified that she was aware that Godoy wanted the defendant to rob and kill an Indian man in return for $20,000 and some diamonds. Mr. Rivera, Suarez's cell mate, testified also.
He met the [defendant] in December of 1997 when they were cell mates for two weeks at the Bergen County Jail. Mr. Rivera testified to conversations he had in March of 1999 with the [defendant] about the murders. Rivera corroborated Godoy's testimony and stated that the [defendant] told him Patel wanted a man killed for swindling him out of money for diamonds and [defendant] agreed to complete the murder for $50,000. Mr. Suarez apparently provided Rivera with details about the weapons used and how the murder was planned. Specifically, he revealed the plot of the murder, including the agreement to do the job for hire, the fact that he purchased a MAC 11 with a silencer, that he wore a bullet-proof vest and had stored the MAC 11, silencer, and duct tape in a duffle bag and that he and Morales were each carrying a nine-millimeter handgun. Rivera further testified that [defendant] and Morales, upon arrival at the home, realized there were three men present and that although they did not know which man they were supposed to kill, they wanted to complete the job so the [defendant] shot all three men. The third man was not dead right away and allegedly Suarez proceeded to stab him repeatedly in the chest. According to Rivera, after the [defendant] and Morales exited the house they stole a Toyota from the home and drove it to Newark and gave it to a neighborhood friend to sell.
Police applied for and obtained a search warrant for the defendant's home in Newark where they found a light blue bullet-proof vest hidden under a mattress. They also searched co-defendant Patel's home and found a piece of paper on which the name of the victim had been written, along with his phone number, address, and the notation "brick house". They also found a second piece of paper contained the name "Angel" (defendant's nickname) and several numbers later identified as the defendant's cell phone and pager numbers. The stolen Toyota, which belonged to one of the victims (Hira) was ultimately located several blocks away from Suarez's home in Newark. Fibers gathered from Suarez's Honda Accord were subsequently determined to match fibers found on the duct tape removed from the murdered men.
Telephone records of the four conspirators were obtained and confirmed that between October 1 and 24, 1997 there were numerous calls between Godoy, Suarez, and Patel. Godoy and Suarez had been on the phone for 41 minutes just before Officers Sepp approached Godoy's parked car on the day of the murders, and Suarez called Godoy back 5 minutes later while Godoy was being interviewed by the police. Suarez also called Godoy 3 more times in rapid succession. According to Kalsaria's ...