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State v. Ramirez

October 27, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 07-08-1284.

Per curiam.


Argued September 27, 2010

Before Judges Reisner and Alvarez.

Tried to a jury, defendant Ramon Ramirez, Jr. was convicted of first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count one); first-degree conspiracy to commit armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count two); and third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count three).*fn1 On April 17, 2009, defendant was sentenced on the first-degree armed robbery to fifteen years subject to eighty-five percent parole ineligibility, in accord with the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. He was also sentenced to ten years imprisonment on the conspiracy and three years on the possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. All terms of imprisonment were to be served concurrently. We affirm defendant's convictions without prejudice to his right to pursue ineffective assistance of counsel claims in a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We remand for reconsideration of the sentence.

Defendant was approximately seventeen years and eleven months old in the early afternoon of February 11, 2007, when he and his co-defendant, Lawrence Reid, walked into a furniture store in Jersey City, the location of the robbery. Neither was masked, but both wore jumpsuits.

At the trial, the store's owner, Rafeek Gafor, testified that defendant and Reid left the store after he showed them several bedroom sets. When they returned moments later, they asked to see additional items of furniture. Gafor reached towards a sample book, only to find when he turned back that defendant was holding a gun approximately two feet from his face. Defendant began to curse and say over and over, "give me your money." Gafor reached into his pocket and handed over $90 in cash, a receipt bearing the phone number of a sales representative, and his cell phone. Meanwhile, Reid was repeatedly telling defendant to "pop that mother f-----." After the two men ran out of the store, Gafor immediately called the police.

Jersey City Police Sergeant Peter Lagis arrived at the scene within seconds of receiving the radio transmission about the robbery. Gafor described the two assailants to him, including the fact they were wearing jumpsuits. The description was then broadcast over the police radio.

As Vincent Stepnowski, a supervisor for Jersey City Closed Circuit TV (CCTV), testified during the trial, CCTV is a television system with approximately seventy cameras scattered throughout the "urban enterprise zone" in the city. It is designed to monitor suspicious or unusual activities. Stepnowski was working the evening shift on that date and heard the police broadcast, including the description of the suspects, indicating that "a Hispanic male and a black male had left the area of Orient and Kennedy Boulevard and were heading east on Orient Avenue." The CCTV cameras then focused on that area, and the subjects were quickly located on camera. While the CCTV recording was played to the jury, Stepnowski gave an accompanying commentary. He described "a Hispanic male and a black male" seen on tape discarding objects and walking towards a neighborhood convenience store on the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Orient. Also depicted on tape was the arrival of police and the ensuing arrest. Stepnowski identified defendant as one of the suspects captured on film.

Police were directed to the neighborhood store by the CCTV operator, who watched the two men fitting the description of the suspects as they walked down the street. They were immediately taken into custody. Gafor, driven by Lagis to the arrest scene, was able to positively identify both men. Lagis described Gafor's identification, which took place within minutes of the crime, as "quite adamant."

Defendant and Reid were transported to juvenile detention. Meanwhile, Officer Matthew Lowenworth searched the route of travel the men had taken from the furniture store to the convenience store, because he was advised that CCTV had observed them discarding something on the street. Lowenworth's search uncovered two jumpsuits, Gafor's cell phone, and later on, a BB gun.

Jersey City Police Officer Mark Hennessey searched defendant incident to his arrest. Hennessey found $67 in defendant's pocket along with the receipt bearing the sales representative's phone number, taken from Gafor. Defendant then volunteered the location of the BB gun to Hennessey. As Hennessey explained:

Q: . . . What did you hear, what was told to you, sir?

A: Well the officers and there was radio transmissions about the gun ...

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