NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 6, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 06-01-0121.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Alison Perrone, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Joseph L. Bocchini, Jr., Mercer County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (John P. Boyle, Jr., Assistant Prosecutor, on the brief).
Before Judges Grall, Koblitz and Accurso.
The first jury to try defendant Jose Negrete on charges related to the killing of Jeri Lynn Dotson and the attempted killing of Alex Ruiz was unable to reach a verdict. A second jury found defendant guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3; attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3; and murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(2). After merging defendant's conspiracy conviction, the judge sentenced him to a life term of imprisonment for murder and a consecutive twenty-year term for attempted murder. Both sentences are subject to terms of parole ineligibility and supervision required by the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. The judge also imposed the appropriate monetary penalties.
Defendant appeals urging reversal of his convictions on four grounds and, in the alternative, contends that his sentences are excessive and should be concurrent. The most significant question is whether Juror Number 8's (Juror 8) participation in deliberations requires reversal of his convictions. Because Juror 8 disclosed information about his relationship with a witness, in violation of the judge's direction, and disclosed information he had heard about the crime scene prior to trial that was not introduced in evidence, in violation of the jury instructions, we conclude that it does.
Defendant and eight codefendants were indicted together, but defendant was tried alone. The State's theory of the case was that as leader of the Trenton chapter of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (Kings), defendant ordered the killing of Dotson and Ruiz because of their connections with the Neta Association (Netas), which was a rival of the Kings, in August 2004. That is when Dotson was killed and Ruiz survived strangulation, a beating and being left for dead in a dumpster. Both Dotson and Ruiz had connections with the Kings and the Netas.
Although the groups were not always hostile, tensions developed in July 2004, shortly after defendant assumed leadership of the Kings. As the King's leader, defendant embarked on an effort to improve the Kings by adding "more structure" and recruiting additional members, including Netas.
When defendant assumed leadership, Dotson, a Latin Queen, was dating the Neta's leader, Fernando Rivera-Maestra (Maestra).Dotson had formerly dated Kings member Dimas Peralta, and he was the father of her children, who were both under four years old in the summer of 2004. Peralta served as defendant's second in command for a short time after defendant became leader of the Kings, and after Peralta left that position, the Kings used Peralta's house for meetings, including trials of members charged with violating the Kings' rules.
Ruiz and his brother were Netas, but Ruiz had a friend, Esmeraldo Rodriguez, who was a King. In addition, Ruiz was living in the basement of the house where Dotson and her children lived in July and August 2004. At Esmeraldo's urging, Ruiz decided to join the Kings. Ruiz informed Maestra of his decision on July 25, 2004.
Maestra and several Netas, including Ruiz's brother, were displeased by Ruiz joining the Kings. Consequently, they went to Dotson's house, where Ruiz and his brother fought before the other Netas attacked and beat Ruiz.
Ruiz understood the beating to be a formal dismissal from the Netas, but Maestra did not. Maestra contacted defendant and notified him that Ruiz could not join the Kings until he was given an official beating.
Thereafter, the Kings and Netas fought when they encountered one another and Maestra ended his relationship with Dotson. By Maestra's account, he broke up with Dotson out of concern for her safety.
Nevertheless, Dotson helped defendant try to broker peace. She called Maestra to arrange a meeting between him and defendant. Although Maestra could hear defendant telling Dotson what to say, he agreed to meet. Both men appeared for the meeting, but it did not occur. ...