On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 07-04-1157.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa, Reisner and Alvarez.
Following a jury trial, defendant Khalil J. Bryant, also known as Dymill J. Bryant, was convicted of third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count six); third-degree endangering an injured victim, Edward Williams, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.2 (count seven); and the endangering of a second injured victim, Amyr Hill (count eight). Accordingly, on January 12, 2009, defendant was sentenced on the unlawful possession of a weapon to a five-year term of imprisonment subject to two years of parole ineligibility. Two concurrent five-year terms of imprisonment were imposed consecutive to that offense on the endangering of an injured victim counts. This aggregate of ten years imprisonment, subject to two years of parole ineligibility, was consecutive to a sentence defendant was then serving. We affirm.
The facts presented by the State can be summarized as follows. At approximately 1:24 a.m. on June 27, 2004, Camden Police Officer Madrid Matthews was dispatched to a housing complex to investigate a reported shooting.*fn1 On arrival, she saw a large crowd of teenagers standing in the middle of the street, "hollering, crying, [and] screaming" around the body of a young African-American man, who was "lying on his back" and bleeding. Matthews called for an emergency medical services (EMS) unit to take the victim, later identified as seventeen-year-old Edward Williams, to Cooper University Hospital (Cooper).
As Police Officer William Boone approached the crime scene, he noticed "a car taking off from th[e] area at a high rate of speed." Boone changed direction and followed it, activating his lights and sirens. The vehicle did not stop until it was cut off by a different EMS unit. As Boone approached, the driver "jumped out" and screamed that his friend had been shot. The second victim, later identified as Amyr Hill, was also rushed to Cooper.
Once it was learned Williams had died from his injuries, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office became involved. Investigator John Ellis, assigned the task of collecting physical evidence, recovered five .32 caliber shell casings, a projectile, and two blood swabs from the scene.
Dr. Ian Hood performed Williams's autopsy, during which Ellis obtained, among other things, two additional projectiles removed from the victim's back. Dr. Hood, who was not employed by the Medical Examiner's Office at the time of trial, concluded Williams had suffered a gunshot wound to the neck and two fatal gunshot wounds to the chest.
Senior Investigator John F. Greer arrived at the scene at approximately 3:00 a.m., and learned that the shooting occurred outside a high school graduation party hosted by Venus Mosley in honor of her daughter Ebony. Greer thereafter interviewed four witnesses: Bryant DeShields, also known as L.B., Donald Araica, Corey Ragin, and Shirell Rowland.
DeShields and Williams had been friends since middle school, over ten years. Earlier on the night of the shooting, they had been "hanging out" with Hill and an unidentified young woman at Hill's house. Although they were not acquainted with the Mosleys and had not been invited, Williams, DeShields, Hill, and the young woman decided to go to the party. After approximately fifteen minutes, however, they left and went back to Hill's house because it was "boring."
Eventually returning to the party, DeShields and Hill went inside, while Williams remained outside. Shortly thereafter, DeShields and Hill rejoined Williams, as they were told he was involved in an argument. DeShields saw Williams "screaming . . . cuss words" at defendant's co-defendant, Jahnell Weaver,*fn2 whom he knew, while another male with a white cast on his arm, wearing a low hat, subsequently identified as defendant, stood by. Weaver was just "talking back" when suddenly, shots were fired. At the initial interview, DeShields told Greer that the man with the cast on his arm shot the victim.
Araica, friends with Williams and Hill his entire life, had seen Williams earlier that night when he passed Araica and Ragin on his bike and mentioned that he was going to a party. Araica remembered previously seeing Weaver and another male with a cast on his arm walk by and identified them in court. After Williams phoned Araica to ask for help, he, Ragin, and "the rest of the fellows" drove there, albeit in separate cars. When they arrived, it was only to find Hill and Williams bleeding in the street.
Ragin approached Hill, while Araica went to check on Williams; he saw Williams was dead. Since Hill was still alive, Araica told Ragin to "throw him in the car and take him out of here," while he remained with Williams. As described by the trauma surgeon who treated him at Cooper, Hill's gunshot wounds were life-threatening, including injury to his liver and femoral artery.
Greer also interviewed another guest, Jasmaine Watkins, who gave a statement in the presence of her aunt, Lamike Goffney. Watkins, who knew Williams and Hill from high school, left the party briefly with her friend Cherae Frazier to get some air. Williams rode past, stopping to talk to a few people outside. At the next intersection, he spoke to Hill "and a couple of other guys."
When Williams returned, Watkins saw him arguing with Weaver; she also noticed a young man she did not know with a white cast on his arm standing next to Weaver. These two came face-to-face with Williams, Hill, and some other teenagers Watkins had never seen before. Watkins glanced up and saw "the gun . . . with the fire com[ing] out," and ran back inside. Watkins had "no doubt" it was Weaver who fired five or six shots. The first shots dropped Williams right where the men were standing, while Hill was struck down while in flight. The man with the cast did "nothing," but ran off with Weaver after the shooting.
Watkins's companion Frazier described Williams as a "[g]ood friend" with whom she had grown up. She and Williams briefly spoke when he arrived, and she generally corroborated Watkins's account of the ensuing argument. She provided more details, however, including that Williams said: "You all think this is a game. It's not funny. It's not a game. You all think this is a game," while Weaver laughed at him. Frazier did not think "the boy with the cast," defendant, was involved in the argument.
After making the comment, Williams asked Hill, who was standing nearby, if he could borrow his phone. Hill agreed. Thereafter, Frazier overheard Williams saying, "You need to get out here. . . . These n----rs think this is a game." Hill tried to restrain Williams from continuing the argument, telling him that "it wasn't worth it." When Williams walked back, Weaver "just pulled out a gun" and started shooting, firing five times.
Frazier and Watkins had a direct view of the confrontation, as they were standing only five feet away. After the shots were fired, Frazier rushed to Williams's side and tried to help him up; she saw Weaver and the individual with the cast running away together. Frazier and another person kept talking to Williams, trying "to keep him here," and he spoke to them "until he took his last breath."
Goffney heard the gunshots from outside her apartment. Knowing her niece was nearby at the Mosleys' party, she immediately went to check that Watkins was alright. On the way, she encountered Frazier, who was "hysterical" and "crying." Frazier kept repeating, "Oh, my God, oh, my God. . . . [Weaver] didn't have to kill him. [Weaver] didn't have to kill him."
When Greer and Detective Wayne Matthews spoke with DeShields a second time, DeShields repudiated his original account, exonerating defendant as the shooter, saying he "wasn't sure" who held the gun because, "I don't know. I told him I was drinking, so I wasn't sure what was going on. [Greer] asked me was it [Weaver] and I told him I didn't know." Greer testified that ...