On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 06-12-0973.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 10, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo, Sabatino and Fasciale.
Tried by a jury, defendant, Suzette Hinds-Mohammed, was convicted of first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; and third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b. After merging the weapons offenses, the court sentenced defendant to a fifteen-year term subject to an eighty-five percent parole ineligibility period on the attempted murder charge and a concurrent seven-year term on the second-degree weapons conviction. Appropriate fees and penalties were also assessed. Defendant appeals, and we affirm.
Two days after Devon Robinson obtained a temporary restraining order against defendant, forcing her out of his apartment, she shot him twice, once in the head and once in the hand, at a scenic overlook off of Interstate 78 in Somerset County. The facts leading up to this crime are as follows.
By all accounts, the couple had a troubled, on-and-off again romantic relationship dating back to 1999. The relationship deteriorated over defendant's suspicions of Robinson's involvement with other women. On October 13, 2006, while Robinson was watching television, defendant confronted him with her suspicions, dumped a jug of water on him, and then took several pills that turned out to be Vitamin C. As a result, four days later, on October 17, Robinson obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant, barring her from his apartment, among other things.
According to the State's proofs, just two days later, on October 19, defendant, who had been staying at a hotel, called Robinson to arrange a meeting. Shortly after, she picked him up, told him she needed money, and the two went to look at an apartment in Somerville that defendant said she wanted to rent. En route, defendant appeared to become lost. She got off I-78 at Exit 33, parked briefly in a dark alley, and then re-entered I-78 before exiting the interstate again at a scenic overlook. The location was essentially a hilltop parking area with views from a cliff-like elevation accessed from the highway by a long, inclined driveway. Defendant then told Robinson she needed to use the bathroom and exited the vehicle. The overlook area was otherwise empty.
Upon her return to the vehicle, defendant asked Robinson to open the back hatch. Coming from the rear, she approached Robinson on the passenger side to ask for tissues. As Robinson turned first toward the center console for the tissues and then turned back toward defendant, she shot him in the right side of the head, saying "you won't fuck me over anymore." When Robinson reached for the gun, defendant shot him again in the hand.
Still alive, Robinson managed to get out of the vehicle and wrestled defendant to the ground, where he gained control of the gun. He pushed away and got back into the vehicle in the driver's seat, but defendant ran to the passenger side and jumped into the car as well. Robinson then took the keys and gun and started walking back down the incline toward the interstate. As defendant followed him, Robinson used his cellular telephone to call 9-1-1 and report the shooting, dropping the gun in the process. Seeing defendant on the other side of the ramp trying to flag down passing cars on the interstate, Robinson doubled back to the vehicle and started to drive down along I-78 to a hospital. Apparently still on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator, he reached the I-287 merge in Bridgewater, where the operator told him to stop and wait for police.
Responding to Robinson's call, authorities quickly reached the scene
shortly before 8:30 p.m. Nearing the turn-off for the overlook, one of
the responders, Bernards Township Police Officer William Seiple,
received another report of someone walking along the interstate.
Officer Seiple continued along I-78 for about a quarter-mile before
seeing defendant crouched
behind a guard rail; as he approached her, she stood and waved to him.
The officer ordered her to the ground and called for back-up, at which
point defendant was handcuffed, frisked and allowed to sit on the
rail. The officer asked defendant whether she was injured, inquired
about the location of the gun and then administered Miranda*fn1
Meanwhile, Robinson was transported to Morristown Memorial Hospital. The trauma surgeon who treated him determined that the bullet that entered his right ear traveled downward and lodged in his jaw, and as a result could not be removed without causing more damage. The surgeon further determined that, given the shot's location near Robinson's airway, brain, major arteries and spinal cord, it easily could have caused paralysis, stroke, brain damage or death had its trajectory been different by a matter of centimeters.
The gun -- a 22-caliber, five shot, single-action revolver with three spent casings and two live rounds inside -- was located on the pavement of the driveway leading up to the overlook. The weapon's leather storage bag was later recovered from beneath the vehicle's driver's seat.
Defendant was taken to the Somerville Police Station where she was again given her Miranda warnings, which she acknowledged and waived. At around 11:15 p.m., she gave a statement to State Trooper Marc Pillus and another officer. During the interview, the entirety of which was audio-recorded, defendant remained very talkative and eager to speak about what happened; originally from Jamaica, she had a fairly strong accent and was very demonstrative, using hand gestures and at times acting out what she alleged had occurred.
In her statement, defendant gave an account of the shooting that conflicted with Robinson's. According to defendant, Robinson, not she, was driving and wanted to stop at the overlook to use the restroom. After the two exited the vehicle, Robinson choked and punched her. During the resulting struggle, she tried to get back into the vehicle as Robinson tried to force her out. She then pulled the gun from the glove compartment and shot him. The fight then spilled to the ground, as Robinson kicked and punched her while trying to take the gun. When he finally got the weapon, he walked away and she fled down a hill.*fn2
According to defendant, she had obtained the revolver from a pawn shop for protection while living in Georgia. After the dealer explained how to use it, she put the gun in its storage bag and then left it in her vehicle's glove compartment unused and untouched until the night of the shooting.*fn3
Defendant reiterated her account of the shooting at trial. She also explained that Robinson, who was born in Jamaica and immigrated to the United States in 1990, had repeatedly asked her to marry him to avoid deportation and that on the night of the shooting, the couple argued about her refusal to marry him. According to defendant, ...