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State ex rel. J.B.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 11, 2013



Submitted March 5, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FJ-02-0002-07.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant J.B., Jr. (Amira R. Scurato, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).

John L. Molinelli, Bergen County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent State of New Jersey (Catherine A. Foddai, Senior Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Fisher and Alvarez.


Tried as a juvenile, fifty-four-year-old J.B., Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2A:113-1, and felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2A:113-2, pursuant to the criminal laws in effect on April 5, 1972, the date of the offense. On July 15, 2011, after adjudicating J.B. guilty, the trial judge merged the offenses, and imposed the maximum permissible term of twenty years, consecutive to a sentence J.B. was then serving. With J.B.'s consent, the trial judge sentenced him under the more favorable current New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice and not the Code in effect at the time of the offense. The court also imposed a $30 Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation (VCCB) penalty and a $15 payment to the Law Enforcement Training and Equipment Fund (LEOTEF). J.B. now appeals, and we affirm.

The State's principal trial witness was J.B.'s younger brother, M.B. He testified that during the evening of April 5, 1972, when he was four years old, he and his brother V.B., then six years old, accompanied by J.B., then fifteen, walked to a construction site near their home. While there, playing on the equipment, M.B. found a sheathed knife in a red truck. J.B. asked to see it, so M.B. passed it to D.B., who in turn handed it to J.B.

Because the boys had been frequently sexually assaulted by J.B., they became alarmed and attempted to climb out of the truck. J.B. then tried to push the boys back into the cab of the truck at which point they fled. J.B. grabbed V.B., telling him "[g]et the f--- back here, I'll whip your a--." M.B. hid behind a pile of rocks, and watched while J.B. stabbed V.B. in the stomach. The child began to scream. M.B. ran back, attempting to aid V.B. J.B. fended him off, at one point choking him, telling him that he could not help V.B. and to stay away. J.B. returned to V.B., who was lying on the ground, picked him up, and stabbed him again, this time under the armpit.

M.B. ran home, grabbing V.B.'s scapular, [1] which had fallen to the ground during the struggle. M.B. lived with his parents and siblings in an apartment building on the first floor, his aunt, uncle, and cousins lived on the second floor, and his grandparents in the basement.

M.B. said that, beginning on the night of the murder, J.B. regularly threatened and intimidated him into remaining silent, for example, by saying "[s]hut the f--- up or you're next." As a result, when questioned by police, M.B. denied knowing anything regarding V.B.'s murder. A few days later, J.B. told M.B. to blame "two black guys" for the murder, a lie which M.B. repeated for years. M.B. also said, however, that whenever he tried to tell his father about J.B.'s role in the killing, his father would beat him with a belt buckle.

On October 19, 2006, M.B. gave a statement to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office to the effect that there was an unidentified person that M.B. saw out of the corner of his eye who did not participate in V.B.'s murder. M.B. testified that he hears his brother screaming and crying every day, does not sleep at night, and still fears J.B. is "coming to get me."

A.B., a fourth brother who was then twelve, testified that he arrived home at approximately 9:00 p.m., looked into the bedroom which V.B. and M.B. shared with their younger sisters, and saw that V.B. was missing. He awakened his father, who asked him to check the grandparents' and the aunt and uncle's apartments to eliminate the possibility that V.B. was with other family members.

A.B.'s uncle and his mother, S.B., returned home at approximately 10:00 p.m. At around that time, A.B. observed his brother J.B., wearing a t-shirt smeared with blood near the collar, enter from the grandparents' basement apartment. He had not been present earlier when A.B. searched for V.B. A.B. witnessed J.B. take off his t-shirt and throw it into the washing machine. A.B. said that his mother was already home when J.B. returned, even though when interviewed on March 21, 1988, he had told the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office that J.B. returned home before his mother. The police were notified upon S.B.'s return, and everyone began searching the neighborhood. A.B.'s brother P.B., and cousin C.C., found the child's body later that evening.

Louis V. Napolitano, M.D., the former Bergen County Medical Examiner, also testified. He recalled arriving at the murder scene with Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Detective Wilbert Coleman and seeing V.B.'s naked body lying on his back on the bloodied floor of the truck cab.

Napolitano's autopsy revealed that there were four linear abrasions on his right cheekbone, similar abrasions beneath the angle of his right jaw, bluish discolorations on the right side of the neck, and one concentric one and one-half inch laceration of the frontal scalp at the center of the child's forehead. There were two separate lacerations caused by a knife through the muscle of V.B.'s right arm, one of which was a deep penetrating wound of the armpit about one and one-quarter inch deep. To Napolitano, this established that the child's arm was raised when he was stabbed. He concluded the cause of death to be massive intraperitoneal hemorrhage caused by stab wounds to the abdomen.

In addition to the stab wounds, the victim suffered numerous injuries from blunt force trauma. V.B.'s skull was severely ...

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