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State of New Jersey v. Melvin Jovel

October 15, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment No. 08-09-2688.

Per curiam.


Submitted: September 12, 2012

Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.

Defendant Melvin Jovel, one of the defendants involved in the Newark schoolyard execution of three teenagers and the shooting of a fourth victim on August 4, 2007, challenges denial of his motion to suppress a post-arrest statement based on his purported inability to understand English sufficiently to make a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda*fn1 rights. He also challenges as excessive the sentence imposing three consecutive life sentences following his guilty plea. We affirm.

On September 12, 2008, Essex County Indictment 08-09-2688 charged defendant and five co-defendants with second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count one); first-degree robbery of Terrance Aeriel, Natasha Aeriel,*fn2 Dashon Harvey, and Iofemi Hightower, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (counts two, three, four, and five); first-degree felony murder of Terrance, Harvey, and Hightower, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3) (counts six, seven, and eight); first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(l) and

(2) (count nine); purposeful or knowing murder of Terrance, Harvey, and Hightower, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(l) and (2) (counts ten, eleven, and twelve); first-degree attempted murder of Natasha, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(l) and (2) (count thirteen); third-degree possessing a gun without a permit to carry, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (count fourteen); second-degree possessing a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (count fifteen); fourth-degree unlawful possessing a machete, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d (count sixteen); and third-degree possessing a machete for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d (count seventeen).

Miranda hearings were conducted over four days. On January 6, 2010, Judge Michael L. Ravin issued an order and written opinion denying defendant's motion to suppress the recorded statement he made to police following his arrest.

On September 21, 2010, defendant appeared before Judge Ravin and, pursuant to a plea agreement, entered guilty pleas to murdering Terrance, Harvey, and Hightower, attempting to murder Natasha, and possessing the .357 magnum handgun used in these crimes without a permit and for an unlawful purpose (counts ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen). The State agreed to dismiss the remaining counts and to make no sentence recommendations. Defendant reserved his right to appeal the order denying his suppression motion.

With the assistance of an interpreter, defendant testified that the crimes took place at the Mount Vernon School in Newark. Two young men and two young women arrived at the school by car. Defendant was sitting on the bleachers, in possession of a gun for which he had no permit. Defendant forced three of the four victims down onto the lowest level of the schoolyard at gunpoint. He then fatally shot each of them in the head once, after which he went upstairs to where the other woman was located and shot her once in the face. Defendant's expressed purpose in shooting the four people in the head was to kill them. Defendant then left the schoolyard.

On November 4, 2010, Judge Ravin sentenced defendant to a term of life imprisonment on count ten (murder of Terrance), subject to the 85% parole disqualifier of the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, the Graves Act parole disqualifer, and a discretionary parole bar of thirty-seven and one-half years, with identical sentences on count eleven (murder of Harvey) and count twelve (murder of Hightower), each to be served consecutively. A consecutive term of twenty years, subject to the NERA and Graves Act parole disqualifiers and a ten year discretionary parole bar was imposed on defendant's conviction for attempted murder on count thirteen. A concurrent five-year term with a two and one-half year parole disqualifier was imposed on count fourteen, and count fifteen was merged with the murder convictions. DNA testing was ordered, and appropriate fees, fines and penalties were also imposed. This appeal ensued.

On appeal, defendant argues the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his ability to understand English was sufficient for him to make a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights in English. He does not challenge the police tactics as coercive. He generally challenges the court's credibility assessments and factual findings regarding the officers and the experts. Defendant also challenges his consecutive sentence as excessive, urging that the crimes were not independent of each other and represent a single period of aberrant behavior.

Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are not persuaded by either of defendant's arguments. We affirm the order denying defendant's suppression motion for the reasons set forth in Judge Ravin's comprehensive written opinion. The judge performed a thorough factual and legal analysis of the testimony and evidence presented at the Miranda hearing, and made express credibility assessments in favor of the investigating officer, Detective Kevin Green, and the State's forensic psychologist, Dr. Ernesto Perdomo, with detailed explanations and references to the record.

Defendant does not point to any factual errors by the judge. The judge found Detective Green, a nineteen-year veteran, to be "forthright, candid and honest" based on his demeanor and tone. Defendant spoke English from the moment Detective Green and the other officers encountered and arrested him in his bedroom based on a co-defendant's statement, asking, "what's this all about?" The ...

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