On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 04-03-0600.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern, Graves and J. N. Harris.
Defendant Lawrence Rainey was indicted for the first-degree purposeful or knowing murder of Antonio Figueroa (Figueroa) in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2) (count one); first-degree armed robbery in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(b) (count two); third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (a knife) in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d) (count three); and first-degree felony murder in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (count four). The trial court denied defendant's pretrial motion to suppress his oral statements and a written statement he gave to the police.
A jury found defendant not guilty of purposeful or knowing murder and the lesser-included offense of passion/provocation manslaughter, but guilty of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1), as a lesser-included offense of murder. The jury also found defendant guilty of the remaining charges, including felony murder. The court merged defendant's other convictions with his felony murder conviction and sentenced defendant to thirty years imprisonment for felony murder with a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Detective Paul Seitz (Seitz) of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office testified that at about 4:00 a.m. on August 28, 2003, he received a call reporting a stabbing at the Monmouth Park Racetrack employee housing area in Oceanport. Defendant and Figueroa, the victim, both lived there. Seitz arrived at the racetrack about twenty minutes later. As a result of his investigation, Seitz learned that Figueroa was selling crack cocaine at the racetrack, and that he had some involvement with Kimberly Carr (Carr) and defendant.
Seitz interviewed Carr between 9:50 and 10:20 a.m. At about 10:25 a.m., racetrack security personnel brought defendant to the security office where he was questioned in a small office, with the door partially open, by Seitz and Detective Brice Cote of the New Jersey State Police.
After defendant was advised of his Miranda*fn1 rights, he said he understood them and agreed to waive his rights and to speak with the police. Seitz testified defendant said: "I'll talk to you but I'm not signing anything."
When asked to describe defendant's demeanor during the interview, Seitz stated:
Listening, for the most part very quiet. At certain points Mr. Rainey, during my interview of him, when I would present him with questions relating to evidence or facts that were developed in this case, on several occasions he stands up and said, 'Here, arrest me.' And I would tell him, 'I don't want to arrest you. I want to hear, you know, what you have to say about this. I'm not going to take somebody else's word about what's going on.' And then he would sit back down and we would converse.
According to Seitz, there were often long pauses between his questions and defendant's answers. In addition, Seitz testified that while the interview was taking place, he received telephone calls from other officers involved in the investigation, who told him "what they had found or information that had been developed," and he would then "proceed to ask Mr. Rainey about some of these facts." For example, when Seitz told defendant he had received information that defendant was buying crack cocaine from Figueroa, defendant said he "was an alcoholic" and "he didn't do crack."
During the interview, Seitz noticed what appeared to be blood on defendant's shirt; defendant denied that it was his blood, but permitted it to be tested. The test was presumptive for blood. In addition, Seitz told defendant they had found blood on the door to his room and on money that defendant had given to Carr.
At about 1:30 p.m., Seitz and Cote left the room to allow Richard Hussey, a security official at the racetrack, to speak with defendant. Hussey had known defendant for about two or three years. Defendant and Hussey hugged and then had a private conversation that lasted approximately fifteen minutes. Hussey told defendant that the officers just wanted to talk to him, and he encouraged defendant to cooperate.
After Hussey left, the detectives continued to interview defendant and food was offered to defendant, but he declined to eat. Later in the afternoon, Seitz confronted defendant with everything he had learned as a result of his investigation and asked: "Do you want people to think you're a cold-blooded killer or was it an accident?" Defendant then began to cry, and he told Seitz that it was early in the morning when "[t]he Mexican,*fn2 as he referred to him, had called out to him where's my money, and this had to do with money that he owed the Mexican that he was paying for Kim's crack habit." Defendant also claimed that Figueroa had "pulled a knife out from behind his back," and while the two men struggled, Figueroa fell down several times.
After defendant gave his verbal statement, he was asked if he would give "a formal typewritten statement," and he agreed. Prior to giving his written statement, defendant was again advised of his rights. The statement started at 5:00 p.m. and ended at 6:18 p.m. Defendant's written statement includes the following:
Q: Mr. Rainey, is it true that you told me that you understood your rights but that you did not want to sign anything but that you wanted to and would talk to me and Detective Cote?
Q: What is your occupation?
Q: What is your formal education?
Q: Can you read, write and understand the English Language?
Q: Mr. Rainey, would you please tell us in your own words what happened between you and the person you know as "Forehead" earlier this morning.
A: I left my room to go to my cousin[']s room, to you know, drink and play cards. When Forehead approached me he asked me do you have my money, I told him I don't have no money, he said you was supposed to take care of a debt for the person, I said I would just as soon as I started working, so he went in his back and pulled out a knife and we tussled. He fell, got up and fell again that's when I got scared and ran. I went back to my room got me a drink, then I went up to Kim's room and that's where I sat for a while. I took my pants off and gave them to her. Then I left. I went out front to the store, then I came back and sat on the bench out front, then I went to another person[']s house and that's where I stayed.
I went back to the store, when I came in the gate, two officers called me to the side.
Q: Would you please describe the person that you are referring to in your statement that you know as Forehead?
A: Short, Mexican, male[.]....
Q: Can you please tell me what your relationship is with Forehead?
A: We have no relationship, I take care of [a] certain person[']s debt, [who buys] crack from him.
Q: Do you know Forehead sells crack?
A: The word on the track, yes.
Q: Who is the person that you are referring to in your ...