On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Indictment No. 06-08-0748.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: October 26, 2011
Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz and St. John.
A jury convicted defendant Jeremy Watson of first degree
purposeful/knowing murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2) (Count One);
first degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3) (Count
Two); first degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 and 2C:5-1
(Count Three); second degree aggravated assault (SBI), N.J.S.A.
2C:12-1b(1) (Count Four); first degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1
(Count Five); third degree unlawful possession of a weapon (a
handgun), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (Count Six); second degree possession of a
weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Count Seven); third
degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (Count Eight); and
third degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute,
N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and
-5b(3) (Count Nine). The charges arise from the shooting of a man and
a woman in a park in Plainfield.
Judge Fasciale merged Counts Two and Seven with Count One, Count Four into Count Three, and Count Eight into Count Nine. He imposed a fifty-five year term of imprisonment subject to a No Early Release Act (NERA)*fn1 85% ineligibility term on Count One (murder), a consecutive seventeen-year term of imprisonment subject to NERA on Count Three (attempted murder), a concurrent seventeen-year term of imprisonment subject to NERA on Count Five (robbery), a concurrent five-year term of imprisonment on Count Six (unlawful possession of a handgun), and a consecutive five-year term of imprisonment on Count Nine (possession of cocaine with intent to distribute). Defendant is serving an aggregate term of seventy-seven years, seventy-two of which are subject to the NERA 85% ineligibility term. The appropriate fees, assessments and penalties were also imposed.
On March 24, 2006, Candice Baker lived with her boyfriend Michael Gregory in Dunellen. At that time, Baker and Gregory had known defendant Jeremy Watson for about a year. He was one of their crack cocaine suppliers. Usually, Baker or Gregory called defendant, who drove to their apartment with the drugs. Occasionally, they drove to his apartment on Leland Avenue in Plainfield. They would call defendant when they arrived and he would come to their car to deliver the drugs.
That day, defendant arrived at Baker and Gregory's apartment at 9:30 a.m. Gregory had arranged for defendant to deliver crack cocaine and to drive them to Newark to permit Gregory to pick up money from his union account. Gregory and Baker "took a hit" of crack, left the apartment with defendant, and entered a green Acura driven by defendant's cousin, Shariff. The foursome drove to Newark, where Gregory picked up his check. When he returned to the car, the foursome drove to Plainfield to cash the check. Defendant knew that Gregory intended to cash his check, at which time he would receive payment for the cocaine delivered that morning.
After Gregory cashed the check, Baker and Gregory shopped for boots for her and some clothing for him. Gregory also obtained a money order for Baker. They returned to the car, Gregory paid defendant for the drugs, and Shariff drove to a nearby convenience store to allow Baker to purchase cigarettes and phone cards for her phone. At this point Gregory had about $2400 in cash.
As they pulled away from the convenience store, Shariff stated he thought they would drive through the park. A minute or so after they entered the park, Shariff stopped the car and told Gregory and Baker to get out of the car. Defendant also left the car and "pulled out his gun." Defendant pointed the gun at Baker, then at Gregory. Shariff asked which one had the money. Baker stated that Gregory had the money. At trial, she described the following events:
And I know a shot was fired towards me, from [defendant]. And it missed me . . . I ducked, 'cause I got very scared. And I was looking ahead of me, and I seen him pointing it at [Gregory]. And [Gregory] was asking him, "please don't hurt us. I'll give you anything. Just take the money."
And he was throwing, like kind of throwing the money, but same time just giving it to him.
And that's when [defendant] started shooting him.
Baker estimated that defendant shot Gregory six ...