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State v. Wood

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 18, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
RODNEY WOOD, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 21, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 99-01-0065.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Michele A. Adubato, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Joseph L. Bocchini, Jr., Mercer County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent, (Dorothy Hersh, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Harris and Hoffman.

PER CURIAM

Defendant appeals from the May 10, 2011 Law Division order denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The record reveals that, following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of reckless manslaughter, felony murder, second-degree robbery, and unlawful possession of a weapon, and was sentenced to a term of thirty years without parole. The charges stem from an attempted robbery of the door receipts collected at a fraternity party committed by defendant and his co-defendant, Willie Robinson. We set forth the factual background to defendant's conviction in an earlier opinion:

On the night of April 16, 1998, the eight residents of 717 West State Street, Trenton, all students at the College of New Jersey, had a party for new pledges of their fraternity. About 150 people attended, paying a $4 admission fee. The party ended about 3:50 a.m., when only about ten people remained, including Richard J. McDonald, one of the students who lived in the house; an older black male; and, Jamal Lane, the homicide victim, a young black male who lived in the neighborhood.
One of the departing guests told McDonald that there were people out back, and McDonald decided to investigate. According to McDonald (who by the time of trial had become a police officer), a voice in the dark ordered him not to move. A black male emerged from the bushes, aiming a rifle at McDonald. The gunman (later identified as co-defendant Robinson) ordered McDonald to give him the "door money." McDonald told him that it must be inside somewhere. With his gun, the gunman prodded McDonald toward the back door. Two guests, Lane and the older man, were on the back porch at the time.
Also, according to McDonald, Lane said, "Don't do this to these people, they're good people." The gunman replied, "This don't concern you, mind your own business." McDonald and the gunman continued into the house and entered the utility room, followed by Lane. Lane lunged at the gunman, and he and McDonald struggled to gain control of the rifle. Suddenly McDonald heard a second intruder, a tall black male with long dreadlocks (later identified as Wood), who said: "what do you guys think you're doing?" Defendant then jumped on McDonald and Lane trying to pull them both backwards. The gun went off, shooting toward the ceiling.
A struggle continued, and the gunman, Wood, and Lane were pushed out onto the back porch. The gunman had broken free of Lane's grasp, and Wood had Lane in a bear-hug, which Lane was resisting. Wood never tried to gain control of the rifle or the gunman, but it appeared from Wood's actions that he was trying to help the gunman. When McDonald saw that the gunman had regained full control of the rifle, he fled into the house and closed and locked the door. He heard more struggling, and then between six and ten gunshots. Lane died from a gunshot wound to his heart and lung.
On April 18, 1998, Wood surrendered to Trenton police. Detective Edward Kownacki took defendant's oral and written statements. Defendant said in his written statement that Robinson (known to him as "Chill Will, " or just "Chill") lived next door to the house where McDonald and his housemates held the party. He and Robinson discussed Robinson's plan to rob the partygoers. At first ...

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