On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 97-11-4358.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Espinosa and Skillman.
Defendant Eugene Seabrookes appeals from an order of the Law Division denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
Following a nine-day trial, a jury found defendant guilty of the murder of Anthony Lewis, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2), and as an accomplice to the murder of Shawn Taylor, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2), as well as related weapons, assault and witness tampering offenses. According to the State's proofs, Taylor witnessed the murder of Lewis and identified defendant and Alkabir Sorey as the men directly involved. In turn, several years later, defendant arranged to have Taylor killed to prevent him from testifying against them.
We briefly summarize the facts as stated in our opinion resulting from defendant's direct appeal. State v. Seabrookes, A-0506-02T4 (App. Div. Apr. 24, 2006). On August 20, 1994, defendant and Sorey rode a motorcycle up to a blue Cadillac that Lewis was driving and defendant fired several shots into the vehicle, killing Lewis. The car then struck the concrete barrier of the bridge on North 11th Street at 7th Avenue in Newark. Lewis's body was found slumped in the vehicle, with bullet wounds to the head, back and left arm. Lewis died from a gunshot wound to the brain.
Lewis's cousins, Marvin Freeman and Taylor, were both in the vehicle and witnessed the shooting. At the time, Taylor gave a statement to police that identified defendant as Lewis's shooter and stated that Sorey was with defendant on the motorcycle. Freeman, at that time, only identified Sorey. Just before the incident, defendant had told an acquaintance, Christopher Jackson, that he and Sorey were having a dispute with some guys in a blue Cadillac, who were trying to "get" Sorey. Shortly after the shooting, as he was pulling up to a crowd forming near the scene, Jackson overheard defendant say "you see my work, you see my work." Police recovered nine .40 millimeter shell casings at the scene and some bullets that had lodged in a nearby house. Some three months later, on November 10, 1994, police recovered a gun during a search of Sorey's residence at 215 North Ninth Street. A ballistics expert found that all of the casings and the bullets recovered at the scene of Lewis's murder were fired from the recovered handgun.
Based on this evidence, defendant and Sorey were indicted for Lewis's murder on January 4, 1995. However, when Taylor later recanted his original identification, ceased cooperating with the State, and could not be located, the indictment against defendant and Sorey was dismissed without prejudice.
Taylor, who in the meantime had been arrested and incarcerated for receiving stolen property, was released from jail on $750 bail posted by defendant and then, at defendant's request, transported to North Carolina where he worked in a clothing store owned by defendant and stayed in the home of Jeanette Goodman, a business acquaintance of defendant. According to the State, defendant made this arrangement to prevent Taylor from testifying against him.
Defendant, however, soon became wary that Taylor, an eyewitness to Lewis's murder, remained a threat to him. Defendant expressed his concern to a number of people, including a former girlfriend, Kimmy Wilkins, to whom he said that Taylor was making too many phone calls and that Wilkins should keep close to him. Defendant later told Wilkins that "he was going to get Oatmeal*fn2 clipped." Defendant also mentioned to his friend John Barnes that Taylor was a witness against him in a homicide case, and that the "feds" were calling defendant's store looking for Taylor. Defendant told his friend Michael Williams that he would get the names of witnesses from his lawyer so that he could go after them.
In December 1996, complaining that he was tired of watching his back and tired of watching Taylor, defendant arranged to have Taylor transported back to New Jersey and stay at Sheila Goodman's apartment at 17 Dodd Street in Bloomfield. Defendant and Barnes drove Taylor to New Jersey where Taylor was later taken, along with his girlfriend and son, to Goodman's apartment. Defendant remained in the State for awhile and visited Wilkins's home, where Stacy Lassiter, who was staying with Wilkins, overheard defendant state that he did not think anyone there would see Oatmeal again because defendant intended to kill him.
Barnes and defendant returned to North Carolina. On the day of Taylor's murder, January 2, 1997, defendant had arranged by phone with both Wilkins and Sheila Goodman to have Taylor present in Goodman's apartment. Throughout the day, defendant made several calls from his store in North Carolina to Goodman's apartment. During one of these calls, defendant asked Wilkins, who was also there, to take Taylor to the "Chinese store" at the corner of Dodd and Prospect. Defendant said that Wilkins would not get hurt and asked whether she trusted defendant, to which she responded affirmatively. Defendant added that they were "going to take care of Oatmeal."
Sheila Goodman saw Wilkins leave with Taylor to go to the "Chinese store" around ten o'clock that evening. When they arrived at the "Chinese store," it was closed. As they began to return to Goodman's apartment, Wilkins saw an individual come out of an alley and lift a weapon. Taylor started running, the gunman chased after him, Taylor screamed, and then Wilkins heard a gunshot. Wilkins ...