On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 03-06-2172.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 13, 2012 -
Before Judges Carchman and Fisher.
In this appeal, defendant argues that his petition for post-conviction relief -- in which he alleged his trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to pursue an insanity or diminished capacity defense -- was erroneously denied. We find no merit in defendant's arguments and affirm.
Defendant was charged in this matter with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2); fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d); third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d); third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(5); and third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2. On March 24, 2004, defendant pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and resisting arrest. As summarized by defendant in his appeal brief, defendant admitted that, on March 14, 2003, he: was watching television and then decided to stab [Ms. Ryan] who lived on the eighth floor of his apartment building. Defendant had contemplated killing [Ms. Ryan] for several days. Defendant retrieved a knife from the kitchen and left the apartment. Defendant stabbed himself in the stomach to "see what it feels like." Defendant took the elevator to the eighth floor where he found the victim in the hallway. He grabbed her, stabbed her numerous times and left her lying near the door of her apartment. Defendant exited the building and observed two police vehicles. He hid the knife in a parking lot near a local bus company. Then defendant observed a girl that he intended to choke. The police confronted defendant and he struggled with the officers in an attempt to escape.
On August 4, 2004, defendant was sentenced to a twenty-five year prison term subject to an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility; a concurrent five-year prison term was imposed for resisting arrest, and the other conviction merged for sentencing purposes.
At the time, defendant was under indictment in Middlesex County for an unrelated murder for which he potentially faced capital punishment. On January 4, 2007, defendant was sentenced, pursuant to a plea agreement, to a thirty-eight year prison term, which was ordered to run concurrently with the prison term imposed in this matter.
Prior to the guilty plea in this matter, Dr. Roger M. Harris conducted a psychiatric evaluation of defendant. Dr. Harris diagnosed defendant as suffering from a number of disorders, including schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Dr. Harris noted that defendant had been treated for psychiatric conditions since he was nine years old. Defendant reported to Dr. Harris that he heard voices telling him to kill but that medication had provided some relief for this and, at the time of the assault on Ms. Ryan, defendant had been taking his medications.
After receiving this report, as well as a supplemental report that opined defendant had made false confessions about other murders, defense counsel negotiated a plea agreement in this matter. Following a thorough voir dire, the trial judge determined that defendant's guilty plea was freely, knowingly and voluntarily entered.
Defendant filed a PCR petition a few months more than five years from entry of the judgment of conviction. In the petition, defendant argued his trial attorney was ineffective in failing to pursue a diminished capacity or insanity defense. In support, however, defendant provided nothing other than Dr. Harris's earlier reports and defendant's own self-serving and conclusory statements regarding the viability of an insanity or diminished capacity defense. The PCR judge found that the PCR petition was not time-barred but that it was without merit.
Defendant appealed, presenting the following arguments for our consideration:
I. THE POST-CONVICTION RELIEF COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT DEFENDANT FAILED TO DEMONSTRATE THAT HE WAS DENIED THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL.
II. THE POST-CONVICTION RELIEF COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO GRANT DEFENDANT AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING ON THE ISSUE OF ...