On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. 99-4-0562.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 4, 2010 -- Decided
Before Judges Rodriguez and Grall.
Defendant Condell Woodson appeals from the denial of his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
Pursuant to an agreement with the State, defendant pleaded guilty to the felony murder of Orange Police Officer Joyce Carnegie, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3); three counts of first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a(2); two counts of second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A.2C:39- 4a; and fourth-degree unlawful possession of hollow point bullets, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3f. The State agreed to recommend concurrent sentences and the dismissal of three unrelated charges.
Prior to the sentencing date, defendant moved to withdraw his guilty pleas. He alleged he had been continually threatened while in custody and coerced into providing an incriminating statement. Defendant maintained his innocence and alleged that his attorneys pressured him to accept the plea to avoid the death penalty.
Judge Betty J. Lester found that defendant's statement to the police had been voluntary and that the evidence against him was overwhelming. The judge also found that defendant's contentions lacked credibility. Noting defendant had not offered any potential defense, the judge denied the motion to withdraw.
At the sentencing hearing four days later, the judge merged the robbery conviction into the felony murder conviction and imposed a life imprisonment term without the possibility of parole. The judge also imposed concurrent terms on the remaining convictions. We affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Woodson, No. A-6285-99T4 (App. Div. March 4, 2002), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 38 (2002).
In less than an hour on April 8, 1999, defendant robbed seven people at gunpoint. At 8:40 p.m., Officer Carnegie stopped defendant. During an ensuing struggle, the defendant fatally shot Carnegie several times. Defendant threw his weapon into a resident's backyard and took a taxi home. He told those present at his home, including his cousin, Desi Shields, that he had shot a police officer earlier that evening.
Later that night, investigators discovered a TEC 9 handgun. Ballistics testing confirmed that the TEC 9 was the firearm used to kill the officer. Investigators traced the weapon to Benjamin F. Walker, a Georgia resident. In an interview, Walker told the investigators that defendant had stolen the gun from him two months earlier.
Police arrested defendant the following day. After receiving Miranda*fn1 warnings, defendant met with Essex County Prosecutor's Office investigators. When Beverly Woodson, In his formal statement, defendant described in detail the robberies he committed before his encounter with Carnegie.
Defendant stated that when Carnegie attempted to arrest him, he tried to throw away the gun and it "accidentally" fired twice, striking the officer in the body and in the head. As defendant fled, he threw the weapon into a backyard. He acknowledged telling persons at his house about committing the murder. Shields also gave a formal statement. She indicated that on the night of the murder, defendant returned home in an agitated state and paced from room to room. After a television program referenced the murder, defendant told Shields that he had done "something wrong." He admitted killing Carnegie and threatened to kill Shields if she told anyone.
At the plea hearing, the Assistant Prosecutor referenced defendant's statement to the police, the autopsy and ballistics reports and the statements of Benjamin Walker, Beverly Woodson and Desi Shields. Defendant gave a detailed factual basis for the three robberies and the shooting of Carnegie, confirming the facts in ...