On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Indictment No. 08-06-0649.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 7, 2012 -
Before Judges Carchman and Fisher.
Following a jury trial, defendant Donna Goebel was found guilty of second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(3)(b). The trial judge sentenced her to five years imprisonment. After imposing the mandated fines, assessments, penalties and surcharges, the judge ordered that defendant "comply with all aspects of Megan's Law, [N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11], including parole supervision for life and registration as a sex offender." Defendant appeals, and we affirm.
These facts emerged at trial. In the fall of 2007, defendant, then forty-three years old, was a teaching assistant in A.B.'s tenth-grade health class at his school located in Westampton Township.
During the course of the school year, A.B., then sixteen years old, gave defendant his cell phone number during class after he noticed defendant staring at him. A.B. described that defendant was crouching down assisting him with his class work when he "felt [her] staring" at him. Defendant called A.B. that same day, first from a school phone and later from her cell phone. During one of those conversations, defendant asked A.B. where he lived. Later that day, she met A.B. down the street from his house. They sat in her car and talked.
Defendant and A.B. began speaking on their cell phones and texting each other every day. They also started "hanging out." Defendant would go to A.B.'s house and sit with him on a couch on the first floor while A.B.'s mother was home. In addition, defendant took A.B. on day trips to various locations, including Atlantic City.
Eventually, the relationship evolved to the point where A.B. and defendant had sexual relations. According to A.B., the first time they had sex, defendant came to his house, they went upstairs into his bedroom, took off their own clothes and had sexual intercourse. A.B. explained that he ejaculated into a shirt. A.B. estimated that he and defendant remained upstairs in his bedroom for approximately two to three hours. During this time, his mother was "in the back of the house."
The following day, while A.B.'s mother was in the house, defendant and A.B. had sexual intercourse in A.B.'s bedroom again. A.B.'s mother had met defendant and knew she was one of A.B.'s teachers; however, she did not know that defendant visited A.B.'s bedroom. A.B. claimed he and defendant had sex "[a]bout two or three" times total. To initiate these encounters, defendant would call or text him and ask if he was busy; if he was not, defendant would ask if she could come over.
In addition to "riding around" in defendant's car, A.B. visited defendant's house. A.B. went to defendant's home approximately two to three times. A.B.'s twin brother corroborated that he accompanied A.B. one time. On one occasion, A.B. slept in defendant's bed with her; however, they did not have sex at that time. A.B. referred to defendant as "babe," and defendant referred to A.B. as "baby." Defendant also bought A.B. his driving permit and clothing. Defendant also took photos of A.B. in her bedroom and in the shower.
The relationship between A.B. and defendant was all-consuming. They would typically start texting between 7:00 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., when defendant would text to see if A.B. was awake. If it was a school day, A.B. would receive the first text, then they would wait until they were able to speak in school. On days when school was not in session, the first text would start a texting conversation that would go "on and off" throughout the day. For example, in one message, A.B. asked if he could go to defendant's home. Defendant responded, "[O]f course, baby," and inquired as to whether A.B. was hungry. Over the course of the "conversation," defendant stated that it mattered to her what A.B. liked. A.B. signed off on that communication by saying, "I love you." Defendant replied, "I love you too."
Similarly, in a text message exchange that occurred on February 1, 2008, defendant texted, "I still love u tho [sic]." A.B. responded, "Love u 2." On February 5, 2008, A.B. sent defendant a text message asking why she was not at work. In response, defendant texted, "I had some things 2 take care of, u miss me?" A.B. responded, "[O]f course." Again, defendant and A.B. ended the text message conversation by texting one another "I love u." Another text from defendant to A.B. said, "Just missin [sic] you."
A.B. explained that he did not want anyone to see defendant for fear that "people would start questioning [him]." When asked why he did not have sex with defendant when they were alone in defendant's house, A.B. explained he "didn't want to . . . [b]ecause [he] felt uncomfortable and [he] didn't want to do it." He expounded further, he did not like having sex with defendant "because of the age."
The clandestine relationship between defendant and A.B. was eventually discovered by defendant's husband. Her husband brought this inappropriate relationship to the attention of the Burlington Prosecutor's Office on January 24, 2008. On that date, Sergeant Darren Anderson of the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, who oversaw the subsequent investigation of defendant, was advised by Detective David Kohler that defendant's husband had located a piece of paper that had a name on it, along with a cell phone number. Her husband provided this piece of paper to the Prosecutor's Office because of his suspicion that defendant and a student enrolled at the school where she worked were having an inappropriate relationship. The following day, January 25, 2008, her husband returned to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. At that time, the determination was made that no investigation was required, as it was "a domestic issue."
Two weeks later, defendant's husband went to the Westampton Police Department with additional information. Sergeant Anderson and Detective Kohler then determined it was necessary to follow up with defendant's husband and pursue an investigation of possible sexual assault. Also on February 6, 2008, Anderson received a phone call from of the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office advising that defendant had made an unscheduled, unsolicited visit to the prosecutor's office and had requested to speak with Kohler. Anderson went to the Westampton Police Station to speak ...