On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 06-04-0386.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 28, 2011
Before Judges Reisner and Sabatino.
After a jury trial, defendant Jamillah Fullman was convicted of the second-degree crime of reckless manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4b(1), as a lesser-included offense of murder; third-degree conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:12-1b; and second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a. At defendant's sentencing, the trial court merged the conspiracy offense into the reckless manslaughter conviction. The court imposed an eight-year custodial term for the reckless manslaughter conviction, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier under the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, plus a seven-year concurrent term on the weapons offense.
On appeal, defendant contends that her conviction must be set aside because the trial court's jury instructions on conspiracy were improper, the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and the State violated her rights against self-incrimination. Defendant further contends that her sentence was excessive. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
This case stems from the shooting death of defendant's former boyfriend, Leon Wilkes.*fn1 According to the State's proofs, defendant, after her contentious break-up with Wilkes, conspired with three other men, requesting that they "hurt" him. One of the three men thereafter shot and killed Wilkes in the basement of his home in Newark.
The key proofs developed at trial were as follows. Defendant and Wilkes were in a rocky relationship as of late September 2005. The couple lived together in Wilkes' apartment in Newark. Defendant moved out on October 1, 2005. That night, defendant went with another man, Anthony Jones, to a motel in Elizabeth, where they stayed for the weekend.
On October 2, 2005, defendant returned to Wilkes' apartment to pick up a check that had arrived for her in the mail. Wilkes drove defendant to a check casher and then to the motel where defendant was staying with Jones. After he dropped off defendant, Wilkes left the motel, but returned a short while later and dumped bags of defendant's clothes onto the parking lot.
Defendant then called her daughter, Nikkita Davis. Davis was dating Dorrell Merrett at the time and lived with him in an apartment. The couple shared the apartment with another couple: Davis' friend, Markeyah Jennings, and her boyfriend, Lenwood Brown. Davis and Merrett both testified that Merrett had a close relationship with defendant, describing it as a "mother-son" relationship.
Davis testified that when defendant called her on October 2, 2005, she asked to speak with Merrett. Merrett, however, was not home, so Davis handed the phone to Brown. Brown testified that defendant told him that Wilkes had raped her and dumped her clothes in the motel parking lot. Defendant allegedly told Brown that the situation "needed to be dealt with" and that Brown and Merrett "needed to put [their] hands on [Wilkes]. Do something. Harm him. . . . Hurt him."
Later that day, defendant called Davis' apartment a second time and spoke with Merrett. Defendant repeated her accusations that Wilkes had raped her and dumped her clothes in a motel parking lot. Merrett initially testified that defendant wanted Wilkes' "murdered", but later said that she only wanted him "hurt at that time."
Davis, Jennings, and Merrett each testified that defendant had called Davis and Merrett and accused Wilkes of rape. Jennings testified that during one of those phone calls, defendant "was upset and crying" and "she wanted Dorrell [Merrett] to beat [Wilkes] up."
After the October 2, 2005 phone calls, Brown and Merrett were visibly upset and angry. They decided to meet defendant at her motel, and enlisted Michael Willerson to join them. They each brought a gun.
When they arrived at the motel, Merrett, Brown and Willerson first met defendant, who was in the company of Jones. Defendant then led Merrett, Brown, and Willerson to her motel room. Brown took defendant into the bathroom and asked her if he, Merrett, and Willerson could hide their guns under the bed. Defendant asked Brown why they had guns. Brown responded, "What type of question is that?" Defendant told Brown that they could hide their guns under the bed. As they lifted the mattress and placed their guns underneath it, defendant looked at Jones, smiled and, referring to Merrett and Brown, said "I told you my sons don't play." Merrett, Brown, and Willerson then spent the night in defendant's motel room, while defendant stayed in the other motel room with Jones.
The next morning, on October 3, 2005, Brown returned the motel room key that defendant had given him and told defendant that they were going to Wilkes' apartment. Defendant was asleep at the time and did not respond, but Brown testified that she opened her eyes "for a split second." Merrett, Brown, and Willerson then went to Wilkes' apartment, where Willerson shot Wilkes to death in the basement.
Following an investigation, defendant, Merrett, Brown, and Willerson were all prosecuted for the homicide, and various other related crimes. With respect to defendant in particular, the State charged her with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1), 2C:11-3a(2); first-degree carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2a; first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a; first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3b; first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, 2C:11-3; third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5a; third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon-loaded rifle, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5c(2); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; and first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1, 2C:11-3.
Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress the admission of two statements that she had given the police: a written statement on October 3, 2005, and a videotaped statement on October 9, 2005. After a hearing, the trial court denied the suppression motions.
Defendant was tried separately from the other defendants in June 2008. The trial took seven days. After the State presented its case-in-chief, the trial court granted defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal with respect to the felony-murder and robbery counts, which were then dismissed. The court denied, however, defendant's motion for acquittal on the remaining counts. Defendant did not testify, and she did not present any witnesses.
Following its deliberations, the jury found defendant guilty of reckless manslaughter, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
The jury found defendant not guilty of the remaining charges. The court thereafter imposed the aforementioned eight-year custodial sentence.
On appeal, defendant raises the following issues for our consideration:
THE JURY CHARGES ON CONSPIRACY AND CONSPIRACY'S RELATIONSHIP TO FORSEEABLE SUBSTANTIVE CRIMES WERE HOPELE[SS]LY CONFUSING THEREBY DEPRIVING DEFENDANT OF DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL.
IT WAS ERROR TO DENY DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL AT THE END OF THE STATE'S CASE.
The Standard for the Motion.
Could a Reasonable Jury Return Verdicts based upon the State's Evidence?
DEFENDANT'S ORAL STATEMENT WAS A CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION WITHOUT MIRANDA WARNINGS AND THE LATER VIDEOTAPED STATEMENT BECAME INVOLUNTARY WHEN SHE ASKED FOR THE INTERROGATION TO STOP.
DEFENDANT'S SENTENCE WAS ...