On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 04-02-0122.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa, R. B. Coleman and Baxter.
Following a trial before Judge Delehey and a jury, defendant Karla Freeman was found guilty on two counts of a seven-count indictment that charged her with: first-degree, purposeful or knowing murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1), (count one); murder during the commission of, the attempt to commit, or flight from a robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (count two); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count three); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count four); third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d) (count five); fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d) (count six); and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1) (count seven).*fn1 Defendant was found guilty of second-degree robbery, a lesser-included offense of count four, and felony murder for the murder of William Goldware that resulted from defendant's and co-defendant Maurice Turner's plan and attempt to rob Goldware. Count four was merged into count two, and defendant was sentenced to a term of thirty years, with a parole ineligibility period of thirty years. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, defendant argues:
POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY FAILING TO ADEQUATELY INSTRUCT THE JURY REGARDING THE ISSUE OF CAUSATION. (NOT RAISED BELOW)
POINT II: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENSE COUNSEL'S MOTION FOR A MISTRIAL ON THE BASIS THAT THE JURY MAY HAVE BEEN TAINTED AS A RESULT OF A JUROR'S OBSERVATION OF THE DEFENDANT WHILE IN CUSTODY.
POINT III: THE PROSECUTOR'S SUMMATION EXCEEDED THE BOUNDS OF PROPRIETY BY INFERENTIALLY COMMENTING UPON THE DEFENDANT'S FIFTH AMENDMENT PRIVILEGE. (PARTIALLY RAISED BELOW)
POINT IV: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENSE COUNSEL'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL ON THE BASIS THAT ONCE THE JURY FOUND THE DEFENDANT NOT GUILTY OF PURPOSEFUL/KNOWING MURDER AS WELL AS FIRST DEGREE ROBBERY, ITS ENSUING VERDICT FINDING THE DEFENDANT GUILTY OF FELONY MURDER WAS FATALLY FLAWED.
We have carefully considered defendant's arguments in light of the facts and applicable law, and we affirm the judgment of conviction.
This matter stems from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of May 24, 2003 that resulted in the death of William Goldware. Earlier that evening, Goldware and his friends, Michael Murray and Warren "Cisco" Littlejohn, visited Black Jack's Lounge (Black Jack's) in Trenton. Murray last saw Goldware around 1:30 a.m. after Goldware dropped him off. While at Black Jack's, Murray had observed Goldware speaking to several women, including defendant.
At 2:44 a.m., the Trenton Police Department received a 911 call for which police responded to defendant's home address. Detective Ryan Burger and Officer Alex Cartegena arrived at the house and entered through the open door after they received no response to their knocking. Inside the house, the officers observed a flipped-over barstool and a blood stain on the wall. On the second floor, they found defendant sitting on a bed in the bedroom. The bedroom showed obvious signs of struggle, as there was an overturned ironing board and blood on the walls and dresser. Defendant was crying and talking on the phone. She was wearing a blood-stained nightgown, and one of the fingernails on her left hand was missing. The fingernail was found in another bedroom.
Goldware was found lying in a puddle of blood on the bathroom floor. He was wearing boxer shorts, and he had twenty-four stab wounds, two of which were later described as fatal.*fn2 The cause of his death was massive hemothorax and hemopericardium due to stab wounds to the lungs and heart.
Two cell phones were also found at the scene. One, a Motorola belonging to defendant, was found in the bedroom under an ironing board. The other, an LG Sprint phone which was registered to a Kandis Queen, was found near the bathroom. When the LG Sprint phone was opened, the screen read "Young Reese," a nickname for co-defendant Maurice Turner.
Officer George Muschal also reported to the scene. While investigating the kitchen, he observed an open utensils drawer.
Muschal also spoke with defendant, who informed him that she had met Goldware at Black Jack's and invited him back to her house. She further told him that after Goldware arrived, she locked both locks on her front door, went upstairs, "put a record on, and . . . [they] proceeded to have sex." Defendant told Muschal that during this time she heard a loud bang and that a man came into the bedroom, said "Give it up," and instigated a struggle. During this struggle, defendant said she was kicked about the face and back. Defendant further related that Goldware tried unsuccessfully to flee by way of the bathroom window, but the window was blocked by bars. Defendant told Muschal that when the attacker fled the house, she called 911 several times. During her recounting of the incident to Muschal, defendant was "nervous" but "talked calmly."
Defendant also spoke to Detective Timothy Thomas. According to Thomas, defendant was crying, covered in blood, and was "visibly upset." Defendant told Thomas that she had met Goldware at a bar, that they returned to her home and "started to fool around," until someone "barged in, [and] started beating them both up." Defendant then agreed to go to police headquarters with Thomas.
At headquarters, defendant executed a waiver of her Miranda*fn3 rights, and then described the evening's events to Thomas. She stated that while at Black Jack's, she saw Warren "Cisco" Littlejohn, whom she recognized. Cisco told her Goldware was interested in her, and she and Goldware exchanged phone numbers. Goldware later called her and asked if he could come over to her house. She said yes, and the two exchanged several additional phone calls before Goldware arrived. While upstairs with Goldware, defendant heard a "screech," and an intruder began beating both her and Goldware. The intruder made demands for property, saying "[w]here the fuck it at?". When defendant responded with confusion, the intruder said "shut the fuck up, bitch." Defendant and Goldware then went into the bathroom, but they could not escape because of the bars on the window. Defendant told Thomas that the intruder was 6'1", slim, twenty-nine years old, and that he "sounded like a black male." Defendant also stated that she believed the intruder had hit her and Goldware with the ironing board and stool.
Defendant reported that after the attack, she first called her grandmother because "when you're in trouble, you think about talking to your mom." Thomas asked why she felt she was in trouble if she did nothing wrong; defendant responded "I feel like I did something wrong." Before her grandmother answered the phone, defendant hung up and called 911. After relating this story, defendant asked Thomas if he thought she had committed the crime. He stated, "I think you did it or someone who you know did it," at which point defendant started "crying hysterically."
Defendant then told Thomas she killed Goldware and she agreed to give a formal statement to that effect. Defendant stated that Littlejohn facilitated a sex-for-money arrangement between defendant and Goldware, and Goldware came to defendant's house. A fight ensued when Goldware demanded sex and refused to pay for it. Defendant stated that during the fight, she grabbed a knife from her kitchen and when Goldware started to choke her, she used the knife to stab him.
Later, however, while Thomas was compiling defendant's statement defendant presented a different version of the evening's events. She said "Detective, that's not what happened. Me and Maurice set him up to rob him, and Maurice stabbed him." When Thomas asked if she was sure, she replied "No, no, that's not what happened. . . . I killed him."
Detective Edgar Rios next interviewed defendant in order to clarify her answers. Defendant stated that Goldware called her and asked her how much it would cost to have sex; she informed him it would be $250. Goldware propositioned defendant which defendant told Rios, made her feel "sleazy" because she felt that Goldware thought he could have sex with her for free. Defendant admitted that she would not have had sex with Goldware for free but that she would have done it for $250; she needed money to pay her bills. Defendant further stated that after she had stabbed Goldware, she called her cousin's boyfriend, co-defendant Maurice Turner. When Turner arrived, she gave him the knife, told him she stabbed someone, and then directed him to leave. When asked why she called Turner, defendant stated, "[b]ecause I know he has a car. And I needed someone to get rid of the knife so I could tell you the story about someone breaking in and beating us up."
Upon meeting with Thomas again, defendant told him her sister told her she better tell Thomas the truth about what happened. Defendant executed another Miranda waiver form, and again related to Thomas that Littlejohn arranged a meeting between her and Goldware. When Goldware called her later that evening, she informed him that she was going home and that she would call him when she got there. After defendant left Black Jack's, she asked Turner for a ride home. She declined Turner's offer to go to an after-hours bar, stating that she "got some money coming to my house." After hearing this, Turner told defendant to leave her door open so that he could enter and rob Goldware. Defendant stated:
[Reese] was saying he was going to hit [Goldware] in his head and go in his pockets and leave. So me and [Reese] got to my house. I went upstairs, and I asked [Reese] how he was going to rob [Goldware]. [Reese] said just have the lights out and I'm going to wrap something around my mouth. [Reese] said he was going to knock him off of the bed and go into his pockets and take his money. But I didn't think that he had guns or knives. So I just figured it was going to be just like he said it was going to be, just knock him off the bed, take ...