On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 02-10-0697.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 14, 2010
Before Judges Fisher, Simonelli and Fasciale.
Having been convicted by a jury of three counts of first-degree robbery and sentenced to an aggregate thirty-five year prison term subject to an 85% parole ineligibility period, defendant argues in this appeal that the trial judge erred by denying him the right to represent himself at trial, in failing to instruct the jury on accomplice liability, and in imposing what defendant claims is an excessive sentence. We find no error and affirm.
To put these issues in their proper setting, the jury heard evidence that, on September 25, 2002, defendant Marcus King (defendant), Khaleel Butts and Saheed Nurideen, while at a party in Plainfield, agreed to rob the nearby Howard Johnson Hotel and Red Bull Inn. They arrived at the Howard Johnson Hotel on Route 22 in North Plainfield at approximately 1:00 a.m.; defendant, Butts and Nurideen were in possession of a shotgun, a BB gun, and a knife, respectively. As this group reached the front desk, the hotel clerk, Rajinder Singh Bhatti, emerged from an adjacent room and walked to the desk. Defendant and his cohorts then brandished their weapons, assaulted Bhatti, and stole a few hundred dollars from the hotel's register. They also demanded access to the hotel safe, but Bhatti claimed he did not have the key, and the three departed.
At approximately 2:00 a.m. the same night, defendant, Butts and Nurideen entered the Red Bull Inn on Route 22 in Bridgewater. They approached the hotel clerk, Henry Shih; one of the three put a knife to Shih's stomach and demanded money.
Another demanded that Shih take them to the hotel safe. When shown the safe, one of the culprits kicked Shih in the chest and ordered him to open it. Shih explained that only the hotel owner knew how to open the safe.
While Shih was being assaulted by two of the culprits, the third approached Jessica Rankin, a hotel guest, in the premises' kitchen, thrust the barrel of a silver handgun in her side, and told Rankin to lay down on the floor. The robber searched Rankin's pockets but found nothing to steal. All three then left the premises.
A few days later, defendant and Butts were apprehended and arrested following their robbery of a McDonald's in Middletown; a third robber escaped. Defendant was questioned by detectives and gave a statement acknowledging his participation in the robberies at the Howard Johnson Hotel and the Red Bull Inn. Butts also confessed.
Defendant was indicted and charged with three counts of first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1(a). Defendant initially entered a guilty plea pursuant to an agreement that required his testimony against Nurideen. When defendant later chose not to cooperate, the plea agreement was vacated, and he and Nurideen went on trial for the robbery charges. Butts had previously entered a guilty plea and testified for the State against defendant and Nurideen.
Defendant was convicted on all three counts of first-degree robbery. The judge imposed a twenty-year prison term on the conviction for robbing Bhatti (count one), a fifteen-year term for the Shih robbery (count two), and a fifteen-year term for the Rankin robbery (count three). The terms imposed on counts one and two were ordered to run consecutively; the term imposed on count three was ordered to run concurrently to count two. The judge also imposed an 85% period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
Defendant appealed, raising the following arguments for our consideration:
I. THE JUDGE VIOLATED DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO SELF-REPRESENTATION WHEN HE DENIED THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO PROCEED PRO SE. U.S. Const. Amends. VI and ...