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State of New Jersey v. Boyce Singleton

February 28, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BOYCE SINGLETON, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Indictment No. 06-01-0104.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued December 8, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Cuff, Fisher and Sapp-Peterson.

The opinion of the court was delivered by FISHER, J.A.D.

Defendant is presently serving a fifty-year prison term for murdering his pregnant girlfriend. At trial, he did not dispute shooting and stabbing the victim to death but instead asserted an insanity defense. He now argues the trial judge's instructions on the insanity defense were incomplete. Because defendant's testimony and other evidence supported his contention that he acted in accordance with a deific command, we reverse and remand for a new trial due to the judge's failure to give the amplified instruction required by State v. Worlock, 117 N.J. 596 (1990), and State v. Winder, 200 N.J. 231 (2009).

I

The evidence revealed that, on September 13, 2005, defendant shot his pregnant girlfriend, Michelle Cazan, four times. Michelle did not immediately die from these wounds. She was choking on her own blood when defendant stabbed her four times with a butterfly knife. The knife wounds proved fatal.

Defendant had been living in Michelle's home in Mansfield since July 27, 2005; they commenced a dating relationship about a week after defendant moved in. On September 12, 2005, the day before her death, Michelle told defendant she was pregnant with his child.

The next day, September 13, 2005 -- the day Michelle was killed -- defendant went to Air Force and Army recruiting centers in Pennsylvania to discuss enlistment. Later that afternoon, he drove Michelle's car to Trenton to pick her up from her place of employment. Unknown to defendant, Michelle had scheduled an appointment for him to meet with her former co-workers about potential job openings. Defendant and Michelle, however, began to argue instead.

As defendant later recounted to police, he was in a "terrible" mood. He was not interested in enlisting but was conscious of his need to provide for his child. Defendant asked Michelle to drive him to his brother's house in nearby Morrisville, Pennsylvania. During their argument, which continued on the ride to Morrisville, defendant said he saw Michelle "[a]s a prostitute" -- meaning "she was prostituting herself to another God" -- and exclaimed he "didn't trust her [and he] didn't want to be around her . . . [or] with her anymore." Michelle stopped the car and the two conversed for about forty-five minutes. Later, instead of continuing to Morrisville, they decided to drive north.

Defendant and Michelle eventually arrived in her hometown of East Rutherford, where she pointed out some of the local sites. Defendant became "enraged" by stories Michelle told about mob activity in the town. To defendant, Michelle "was bragging about" mob killings, which "defeat[ed] the purpose of the type of people who [they] were trying to become." At this point, defendant said he decided not to join the military: "I was not going to serve any other God but my God and I was going to have the courage and the strength to do what he was calling me to do."

The couple left East Rutherford, and continued arguing on the way to Mansfield. Defendant later told police he questioned "what we was gonna do for our future cause for the baby, how was it gonna work out, how, how it was gonna work, you know, how, how could it work, how could this work, how could that work and then like you know this is hell." He further described his feelings at the time as being void of "emotion, it was no love or, I didn't know love, I didn't feel nothing." At trial, defendant testified that Michelle was concerned for the unborn child and how it would be cared for, but "in [defendant's] eyes, that was just a lack of faith because [defendant] knew in [him]self that God will provide whatever [they] needed."

They arrived at Michelle's home around 10:30 p.m. Upon entering, defendant asked Michelle for the car keys. When she refused, defendant drew a revolver from his waistband and shot Michelle as she walked toward him. She screamed his name and began choking on her own blood. Because defendant "didn't want her to die like that . . . [and] didn't want her to suffer," he stabbed her with a butterfly knife. Defendant put the knife back in his pocket, left the revolver, and ran out of the home.

Defendant immediately drove Michelle's car to his friend William Britt's house in Trenton, where he washed his hands and changed his clothes. Defendant drank and smoked marijuana with William, who described defendant as "antsy" and "all over the place" during their few hours together. William's brother John Britt testified that defendant seemed "somewhat frantic . . .

[k]ind of like he was scared" but also "confused."

Defendant left Britt's home and started walking to his

parents' Morrisville home. On the way, he threw the knife into a canal in Trenton. Defendant told police he "planned on running" and "just keep kill[ing] everybody . . . until [he] got killed." He also said he discarded the knife because "that's what [he] was supposed to do, . . . cause from watching movie[s] . . . they tell you to get rid of the murder weapon."

Defendant arrived in Morrisville in the early morning hours of September 14. Defendant's sister, Lakeisha Singleton, arrived home at the same time. She testified that defendant approached the home with a "numb" expression on his face and appeared "lost." Defendant asked Lakeisha for a ride to Michelle's house, and she agreed.

When they arrived at Michelle's house, defendant directed his sister to park in the rear of the building and, after determining that no one was there, defendant instructed Lakeisha to park in front. At trial, defendant explained that the police were his enemy and if he was captured, he could not serve God. He went inside Michelle's home, retrieved the revolver, and "cleaned up the place a little bit" by wiping down the door handles and steps to clean the "blood from everywhere." Defendant placed the revolver and items used to clean the residence in a plastic garbage bag.

Defendant returned to Lakeisha's car with the plastic bag and asked her to drive to Trenton so he could retrieve Michelle's car. Lakeisha testified that defendant had "many rambling conversations" during the ride but not with her: "Whoever he was talking to or whatever he was hearing, he was responding to. But the conversation wasn't for me." Defendant recalled Lakeisha asking what was wrong; he eventually confessed he had killed Michelle. Lakeisha suggested they drive to their parents' home, rather than stopping to retrieve Michelle's car.

Upon returning to Morrisville, defendant told his father he had killed Michelle. He also called a cousin in North Carolina to say he would be heading there. Defendant then left his parents' home and returned to Trenton to get Michelle's car.

During his drive south on Interstate 95, defendant spoke on the phone with his mother and Lakeisha. He cried during these conversations and said he wanted to hold Michelle. Defendant got as far as Baltimore before he decided to turn around and return to Morrisville.

Defendant arrived at his parents' home sometime after sunrise and informed his family he wanted to turn himself in but first wanted to "go hold [Michelle and] go see her." Defendant drove to Michelle's house with his brother, Damon. Lakeisha and defendant's mother followed in another car. Defendant first stopped at William Britt's home to retrieve his bloody clothes and to tell the Britt brothers he planned on turning himself in. Damon testified that defendant was "incoherent" during the car ride, that defendant "was talking to somebody" other than Damon.

When they arrived at Michelle's house, defendant went inside while the others remained outside. He entered Michelle's bedroom, repositioned her clothing, touched her elbow, and sprayed perfume on a stuffed animal, which he placed by her body. Damon eventually entered out of concern defendant might hurt himself and observed defendant holding Michelle's body in his arms "trying to wake her [and] telling her [to] wake up." Outside, defendant's mother asked a neighbor to call police.

After arriving at Michelle's home around 10:30 a.m., Mansfield Patrolman Jason Abadia immediately called for back-up, and Patrolman Donald Mathews arrived a few minutes later. Abadia positioned himself with a shotgun at the front while Mathews secured the rear of the residence. Abadia heard a man screaming from inside, a scream that eventually became more audible. The garage door then "flew open" and defendant exited. Defendant complied with Abadia's order that he "get down," and Mathews checked for weapons and handcuffed him. Abadia testified that defendant said:

I killed her. I killed her. Don't leave her like that. Cover her up. I killed her. Defendant was then placed in the back of a patrol vehicle.

Abadia testified that, after being read his Miranda*fn1 rights, defendant stated he killed Michelle by shooting and stabbing her. Defendant told the officer the gun was in the car and that he had thrown the knife in the canal. Abadia testified defendant was rocking about and crying.

The officers secured the scene and responsibility for further investigation was transferred to the New Jersey State Police, whose Detective Sergeant Lindsey Cooper arrived at Michelle's residence around 11:40 a.m. After assessing the scene, Cooper decided to seek a recorded statement from defendant and read defendant his Miranda rights. Defendant again admitted killing Michelle. He also stated that he saw a vision of Michelle in the window of her home as he was giving the statement. When asked why he was so angry, defendant stated: "Well, it's that damn book, that damn book, that damn book, man, it's that damn book, it's that damn book." He explained he was referring to the Bible and that: "I lost it and the devil kept fucking with me, he just kept fucking with me and I lost it . . . ." Defendant was asked if anyone else had been involved in the killing; defendant replied: "No, the devil, god and the devil (inaudible) inside of me, outside of me, all over the place, all over the place."

Defendant was transported to the stationhouse where Cooper again advised defendant of his Miranda rights and conducted an unrecorded nearly two-hour pre-interview, following which defendant provided a second taped statement. He was then taken to Trenton to recover the knife; it was never found.

II

Defendant was charged and, at the conclusion of a ten-day trial, convicted of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and -3a(2); second-degree possession of a weapon (a handgun) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; third-degree possession of a weapon (a knife) for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d; third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon (handgun), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; third-degree hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(1); and fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1).

Defendant moved for a new trial, claiming, among other things, the judge's insanity defense instructions were erroneous. The motion was denied.

At sentencing, after merging some of the weapons convictions into the murder conviction, the judge imposed a fifty-year prison term with an 85% period of parole ineligibility, pursuant to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, on the murder conviction. The judge also imposed: a five-year prison term on the conviction for unlawful possession of a weapon, concurrent to the term imposed on the murder conviction; a five-year prison term on the hindering conviction, consecutive to the term imposed on the ...


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