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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. W.M.

June 4, 2010

NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
W.M., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF N.M. AND S.M., MINORS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Ocean County, Docket No. FG-15-18-09.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 3, 2010

Before Judges Rodríguez, Yannotti and Chambers.

Defendant W.M. appeals from a judgment entered by the Family Part on June 30, 2009, which terminated his parental rights to two minor children, N.M. and S.M. We affirm.

I.

The following facts are pertinent to our decision in this case. S.C. was the biological mother of four children: N.M., S.M., Z.C. and D.C. W.M. is the biological father of N.M. and S.M. C.C. was named as the alleged biological father of D.C., and J.G. was named as the biological father of Z.C.

On June 14, 2007, S.C. and W.M. were residing with the four children in a home in Lakewood, New Jersey. On that date, W.M.'s seventeen-year-old son, D.K., who resides in Georgia with his biological mother, also was staying at the house. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Patrolman William Allen (Allen) of the Lakewood Police Department (LPD) responded to the home, after a neighbor reported hearing a gun shot there. Patrolman Robert Anderson of the LPD also responded to the scene. The door of the house was unlocked and the officers went inside.

Allen called out and D.K. came down the stairs. D.K. was holding a child. Allen asked D.K. if anyone had been shot, or if he had heard any gunfire. D.K. said that he had been asleep and did not hear anything. With D.K.'s permission, Allen walked down to the ground floor, where he found S.C. lying face down on the floor in a bedroom. S.C. had a large wound on the side of her head. It appeared to Allen that it was a gunshot wound.

S.C. was alive, and N.M. was lying next to her, sleeping. Allen observed a handgun near S.C.'s hand. Allen secured the gun, which was a loaded .357 magnum revolver, and Anderson took the child. The officers summoned emergency medical assistance. Paramedics arrived and removed S.C. to a hospital, where she died.

The police transported the children to Lakewood's police headquarters. Z.C. was then ten years old; D.C. was six years old; N.M. was two-and-one-half years old; and S.M. was eighteen months old. The police contacted the Division of Youth and Family Services (Division), and requested that the Division attend to the children. On June 18, 2007, the court awarded the Division custody of the four children. The children were placed in foster care. In March 2008, the Division placed the children in the care of a maternal aunt, J.C.

W.M. turned himself into the police at around 10:37 p.m. on June 14, 2007. He gave a videotaped statement to the police. W.M. said that he and S.C. had engaged in a heated verbal dispute. According to W.M., S.C. was in possession of a handgun. A struggle ensued, during which S.C. was shot in the head. W.M. said that he and S.C. had their hands on the gun when it discharged. W.M. was arrested and incarcerated.

On March 19, 2008, W.M. was charged under Indictment No. 08-03-388 with first degree murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3; second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4; fourth degree tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6; and second degree possession of a weapon, after having been convicted of a drug offense, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b). He has not yet been tried on the charges. W.M. was unable to post the required bail and he remains in jail.

On August 26, 2008, the Division filed a guardianship action seeking, among other things, the termination of W.M.'s parental rights to N.M. and S.M. The Family Part conducted a trial in the matter and, on June 30, 2009, rendered an oral decision in which it concluded that the Division had established by clear and convincing evidence all of the requirements under N.J.S.A. 30:4-15.1(c) for termination of W.M.'s parental rights to N.M. and S.M. The court also found that C.C.'s parental rights to D.C. should be terminated.*fn1 The court entered an order dated June 30, 2009, memorializing its decision. W.M. has appealed.

II.

On appeal, W.M. raises the following arguments for our ...


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