On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 09-01-0029.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued telephonically January 12, 2012
Before Judges Carchman and Nugent.
Following unsuccessful motions to dismiss the indictment as well as to suppress evidence, defendant Rosario DiGirolamo entered a plea of guilty to aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4. The trial judge, consistent with the plea agreement, sentenced defendant to a prison term of twenty-five years, subject to an eighty-five percent parole disqualifier under the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. As part of his plea agreement, defendant reserved the right to appeal the denial of his pretrial motion to suppress. See R. 3:9-3(f); R. 3:5-7(d). He now appeals, and we affirm.
We limit our recitation of the facts to those that are relevant to the issues raised on appeal. On June 8, 2007, defendant killed the victim, Amy Giordano, by striking her on the head with a hammer. Defendant, who was married to another woman, was having an affair with the victim, and the parties had a child together who was ten months old at the time of the killing. After killing Giordano, defendant sawed her body into parts, stuffed her remains in a suitcase and dumped the suitcase in a pond on Staten Island. Defendant then drove to Delaware and abandoned his child in a parking lot at Christiana Hospital. Less than a week later, defendant fled the country, flying to Milan, Italy.
Approximately one week before Giordano's disappearance, defendant went to Lowe's Home Improvement in Paterson, where his friend John Russo worked. According to Russo, defendant discussed problems he was having with the victim and asked Russo about disposing of her body. When Russo and defendant went to a diner during Russo's lunch break, defendant disclosed that he had attempted to kill Giordano about a month earlier by crushing prescription sleeping pills and placing them in her drink. That attempt was unsuccessful because Giordano became nauseous but remained conscious. Defendant said he intended to kill Giordano by striking her on the head with a pry bar, and that he had a saw he could use to cut her up. When asked whether he told defendant of a spot where "something could be dumped and not be found," Russo admitted that when he and defendant were in the diner, he told defendant he knew of a pond where he had ice skated as a child.
Defendant purchased contractor bags, a Sawzall blade and drain cleaner from Lowe's. He showed Russo the type of pry bar he was going to use to hit Giordano. It was twelve inches long, made of steel and flat but with a curve on the end.
On June 8, 2007, defendant was observed on various surveillance videos shopping with the child. At 3:00 p.m., he purchased a fourteen-inch Buck Brothers saw.
Defendant contacted Russo that same day and, among other things, indicated that "[i]t's done." Later that day, defendant called Russo in a state of panic. He indicated that his Sawzall blade was not cutting properly, and he asked Russo what he should do. Russo told defendant he had no idea. Defendant then asked if Russo could meet him the next morning before Russo went to work so Russo could show him the location of the pond Russo had previously recommended.
The next morning, defendant met Russo, and they eventually proceeded to a pond on Staten Island. Russo drove to the pond in his own vehicle, and defendant followed. They parked near the pond. Defendant opened the trunk of his car, dragged out a dark-colored suitcase, and while Russo watched the child who was in defendant's car, defendant carried the suitcase into the woods. Russo heard a splash. Defendant returned and warned Russo, "You know you can never tell anybody about this." Defendant also said that he had "hit Amy in the back of her head [and] neck area," but Russo told defendant he did not want to know the details. Defendant told Russo he had used a hacksaw to cut up Giordano's body, which "worked just fine." He also indicated that when he cut up her body, he had worn old clothes, which he planned to throw away. Later that day, defendant took the child to Delaware, where he abandoned the child in a parking lot.
On June 26, 2007, the police executed a search warrant at Giordano's apartment and found blood throughout. Subsequent testing revealed that Giordano's DNA profile matched the blood recovered from the center hallway, bedroom door jamb, bedroom wall and bathroom door jamb.
After eight weeks of investigation, the police obtained a search warrant for defendant's home. On July 31, 2007, the police executed that warrant and found a Buck Brothers saw in a Lowe's plastic bag. The cardboard manufacturer's sleeve was on the blade of the saw.
On August 8, 2007, Detective R.S. MacConnell of the New Jersey State Police Crime Scene Investigation Unit examined the saw for fingerprints. One impression was found, but it could not be identified. Thereafter, the saw was examined and tested for blood DNA, with negative results.
In August 2007, defendant returned from Italy and turned himself in to the Delaware State Police on charges relating to the abandonment of his son. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree reckless endangerment and child abandonment, and he was sentenced to probation.
On December 21, 2007, the police interviewed Robert Carpenito, who said that his ex-wife, Rachel Stansbery-Finn, had spoken with defendant in June 2007. Stansbery-Finn reported that at that time, defendant was "not acting like himself" and that he had said, "[W]here [Amy Giordano] is, no one will find her." Carpenito agreed to call and meet with Stansbery-Finn in an effort to elicit further information concerning her communications with defendant. Carpenito also agreed to allow his conversations with Stansbery-Finn to be recorded.
At the direction of law enforcement, Carpenito recorded a conversation with Stansbery-Finn. During that conversation, Stansbery-Finn said that defendant "came to her home and admitted he killed Amy Giordano, placed her body in a suitcase and dumped the suitcase in a pond [on] Staten Island, New York."
On March 20, 2008, arrest warrants were issued for defendant and Russo. Defendant was arrested that day. A few days later, having spoken to the police, Russo accompanied them to Clay Pit Ponds State Park Reserve, pointing to the area where he had seen defendant enter the woods with the suitcase to dispose of Giordano's body. The police found a dark-colored suitcase in a shallow section of Clay Pit Pond. Inside the suitcase were empty heavy-duty compactor bags and debris. There was a hole in the suitcase through which body parts had fallen into the water. The police discovered a rib cage, spinal column and part of a pelvis in the water. Divers also discovered "various human bones and bone fragments" in the pond. The bones and bone fragments were analyzed and determined to contain DNA that positively ...