On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 01-06-0660.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez and Yannotti.
Defendant Carlos Camacho appeals from the denial of his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
In 2003, following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first degree murder of Victor Pachas, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1); third degree possession of a knife for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d; and fourth degree unlawful possession of a knife, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d. Judge Ronald G. Marmo merged the three convictions and imposed a thirty-year term with a thirty-year parole disqualifier. On direct appeal, we affirmed, but preserved the ineffective assistance claim for PCR. State v. Camacho, No. A-4612-02T4 (App. Div. Dec. 30, 2004), certif. denied, 183 N.J. 257 (2005).
The evidence is set forth in our opinion on direct appeal. These are the salient facts. On February 24, 2001, Pachas went to a social club in Paterson with his friend Alejandro Fernandez. As he did often in the evenings, Pachas was dressed as a woman and wore a wig, makeup, jewelry, brown skirt, brown blouse and high heals. Pachas normally dressed as a man during the daytime. Pachas and Fernandez consumed two to three pitchers of beer along with two other friends. Fernandez dropped Pachas off at his apartment between 3:10 and 3:30 a.m. on the morning of February 25, 2001. Fernandez advised Pachas not to go out because there was "crack heads and crazy people" on the streets. He did this because Pachas would solicit strangers and bring them back to his apartment. After Fernandez left, Pachas drove to Slater Street, which is a known homosexual pick-up area.
Hilda Teran, a resident who lived in Pachas's apartment building, testified that she heard a cry for help three times in Spanish at approximately 4:00 a.m. on February 25, 2001. Teran did not contact the police. At around 5:00 a.m., Teran heard someone run down the stairs and exit the building.
Rafael Leureyro, who also lives in the building, testified that he heard loud noises and described the noise as wheels rolling. Leureyro also heard a woman crying for help. He called the police and fell asleep. That morning, Leureyro called Pachas. After receiving no answer, he contacted the apartment owner. He also went to Pachas's apartment and entered after realizing that the door was unlocked. He saw blood. His friend Ivan called the police.
Paterson Police Officer Buchanan testified that he found Pachas's body and a knife blade. Buchanan observed that: the bedroom walls, ceiling and door jambs were covered in blood; the bed and sheets were soaked with blood; and the kitchen floor and carpet were covered in bloody footprints. The medical examiner testified that that the neck injuries sustained by Pachas were consistent with strangulation and opined that the cause of death was "asphyxia due to strangulation and blunt and sharp force injuries of his head and chest."
Several weeks later, defendant's sister, Maleni, informed Paterson Police Detective Colon that defendant had been involved in a murder and was in Puerto Rico, but wanted to return. Colon traveled to Puerto Rico and arrested defendant with the assistance of Puerto Rican authorities. Defendant was taken to police headquarters in Puerto Rico. Colon advised him of his Miranda*fn1 warnings. Defendant agreed to provide a formal handwritten statement about Pachas's death. According to the statement, in the early morning hours of February 25, 2001, defendant visited his friend Ramon Rivera, nicknamed "Cito," at his house on Slater Street. Defendant left Cito's house and on his way home, he was called by Pachas, who was dressed as a female and parked on the street. Pachas offered him $20 to have sex.
Defendant got into Pachas's vehicle and asked to be driven to a place to purchase a "bag of marijuana." After entering the apartment, Pachas went into the bathroom. When he walked out of the bathroom, he exposed his genitals to defendant. Defendant became angry and began to dress himself. Defendant had a knife in his jacket which was visible. He believed that Pachas was going to grab the knife and use it against him.
According to defendant, Pachas said "you came prepared." Defendant grabbed the knife, punched Pachas and then stabbed him once in the back. The blade broke and defendant removed the bare blade. The two struggled in Pachas's bedroom. Defendant punched and stabbed Pachas several times in the face. Defendant stepped on Pachas's throat to "shut him up." Pachas was still breathing when defendant left the apartment.
Defendant then walked home. The door to his apartment was locked, requiring defendant to knock. His mother opened the door. Defendant's mother called Meleni, his sister. Maleni testified that defendant was covered in blood, bruised and his fingers were cut. Defendant told Maleni that he had been mugged. Meleni and her mother removed ...