On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 09-04-00322.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued: September 14, 2011
Before Judges Cuff and Lihotz.
A jury convicted defendant Stanley R. Saintius of second degree aggravated assault, serious bodily injury (SBI) (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(1), and acquitted him of second degree burglary, third degree aggravated assault, and third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Judge Peim sentenced defendant as a third degree offender to a three-year term of imprisonment, subject to a No Early Release Act*fn1 85% parole ineligibility term. The appropriate fines, penalties and assessments were also imposed.
Cynthia Willis and defendant had been involved in a romantic relationship for six years as of November 30, 2008. They did not live together but defendant spent substantial amounts of time at Willis's house, kept some clothing and tools there, and had a key to her house. Defendant did, however, usually call to ask Willis for permission to enter the house.
The relationship was not uninterrupted. There were periods of time when they did not see each other, but they always resumed the relationship. In November 2008, they were not in the midst of a break in the relationship. According to Willis, defendant had no knowledge she was dating Miguel Moulton, the victim. She also testified that during the course of their six-year relationship there had been no issues regarding infidelity by either party. During cross-examination, defense counsel asked Willis directly if "you have ever provided Mr. Saintius with a reason to suspect that [she] might be cheating on him prior to November 30, 2008," and she responded "No."
Nevertheless, Willis admitted that in September 2007 she met Miguel Moulton on a dating website and they went on a couple of dates in February and March 2008. He never came to her house at that time. In Fall 2008, they renewed their relationship. Willis led Moulton to believe that she was not involved with another man. On November 29, 2008, Willis and Moulton had dinner at a local restaurant and went back to her house to watch a movie. Moulton parked his car between her house and her neighbor's driveway. Later in the evening they became intimate.
While Willis and Moulton were in her upstairs bedroom, Willis began to receive telephone calls from defendant. She tried to ignore them because she did not want to speak to defendant at that time. When the calls persisted, Moulton suggested she answer the phone because someone might need help. Then she heard a noise that could have been someone trying to enter the house or a problem with the heater. She left her bed to look out the bathroom window. She saw nothing but Moulton saw someone. Willis looked again and saw defendant standing in her front lawn.
Then, using her cell phone, she called defendant, who asked her if there was someone in the house. She responded that she was alone; he asked if he could enter the house to obtain his tools. Willis hung up, told Moulton she was going to let him out the back door and the caller in by the front door, and went downstairs to obtain Moulton's hat and coat. Willis testified that she also told Moulton that the caller was "a guy who likes me"; Moulton testified that Willis told him the caller was a stalker. Moulton called a friend, who lived nearby, and asked him to call the police because he thought there might be trouble. As Willis waited downstairs to escort Moulton out the front door, Moulton grabbed a stick he saw at the top of the stairs and started to descend the stairs.
Although Willis and Moulton offered varying accounts of what occurred next, the record permits the jury to have found that Willis went upstairs as Moulton descended the steps, defendant entered the house probably by the back door, and defendant and Moulton upon seeing each other started to throw punches. Moulton testified that he quickly dropped the stick he was carrying, the two men struggled, he fell to the ground, and then he felt a hard blow to his head. The struggle ceased and Moulton crawled from the house. The friend he called found Moulton lying in the middle of the street. Moulton suffered a broken ankle and an open depressed skull fracture requiring two surgical procedures.
On appeal, defendant raises the following argument:
THE JURY INSTRUCTIONS: (A) IMPROPERLY OMITTED AN ENTIRE RELEVANT SUBSECTION OF THE APPLICABLE STATUTE ON SELF-DEFENSE, AND (B)
ALSO SEPARATELY ERRED BY REPEATEDLY TELLING THE JURY TO RETURN A GUILTY VERDICT SOLELY IF THE JURORS FOUND DEFENDANT HAD CAUSED SERIOUS INJURY WITH THE REQUIS[I]TE MENS REA -- A POINT WHICH WAS NOT IN DISPUTE WHEN ...