On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Indictment No. 08-09-1327.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Sabatino.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress incriminating statements he had made to police officers in a hospital room, defendant Garry S. Zigich, Jr., pled guilty to the first-degree murder of his teenage cousin. See N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2). He was sentenced to a fifty-year custodial term, subject to an 85% parole ineligibility period under the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
Defendant now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his suppression motion, and that his constitutional rights against self-incrimination thereby have been infringed. We disagree, and consequently affirm defendant's conviction.
I. The record provides the following chronology of pertinent events relating to the victim's murder and the questioning of defendant later that day in a hospital room.
On March 18, 2008, the victim, fifteen-year-old Brittany Cena, did not return home from school. Her parents reported to the Toms River police that she was missing. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., the teenager's grandparents found her dead body in the basement of the family residence in Toms River. She had been strangled to death.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., Sergeant Elliot Morgan of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office arrived at the victim's residence to investigate the death. Morgan learned that defendant, the victim's twenty-four-year-old cousin, had been living in the basement of the premises. He also learned that defendant had gone that day to Riverview Medical Center ("Riverview" or "the hospital") in Red Bank to seek treatment. Accompanied by Detective Randy Petrick of the Toms River Police Department, Morgan headed to the hospital to interview defendant.
At about the same time, another Toms River*fn1 police officer, Detective Brian Lomer, contacted Lieutenant Richard Mangold of the Red Bank Police Department. Lomer informed Mangold that the Toms River police wanted to speak to defendant, whom they believed was at Riverview, in connection with a homicide. Mangold, in turn, instructed two other Red Bank officers, Detective Michael Frazee and Patrolman Robert Gannon, to go to Riverview and locate defendant.
Upon arriving at Riverview, Frazee learned that defendant was in a room near the emergency department. Defendant had checked himself into the hospital, having experienced suicidal ideations. He had been evaluated and his condition was stable. Defendant had been given medication for agitation, although he does not contend that he was in an impaired state when he was questioned by the police officers. He was ready to be transferred to a crisis unit within the hospital, although his transfer was delayed as a result of the officers' arrival.
Frazee found defendant alone and asleep in his room. Frazee's colleague, Gannon, remained outside the room, out of defendant's sight, awaiting the arrival of Morgan and Petrick from Toms River. Meanwhile, Red Bank Patrolman Patrick Kennedy located defendant's truck in the hospital parking lot and secured it.
When Morgan and Petrick arrived at the hospital, they went to defendant's room. They were not dressed in police uniforms, although Morgan wore a jacket with insignia from the prosecutor's office. The officers introduced themselves to defendant, and said that they wanted to ask him some questions. Defendant permitted them to do so.
The interview of defendant in his hospital room began at approximately 8:13 p.m. Morgan and Petrick conducted the interview. A hospital employee, Eujennie Quinland, remained in the room. Morgan placed a tape recorder on the tray next to ...