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Azzollini v. New Jersey State Parole Board

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 11, 2013



Submitted July 23, 2013

On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Stephen F. Azzollini, appellant pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Christopher C. Josephson, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Espinosa and Hoffman.


Appellant Stephen F. Azzollini appeals from the decision of defendant New Jersey State Parole Board (Board) denying parole and imposing a thirty-six-month future eligibility term (FET). We affirm.

In 1978, while in New York, Azzollini murdered the wife of his childhood friend, Dennis Raso, in exchange for a partnership in Raso's florist business in Hoboken and a payment of $1500. After the murder, Azzollini returned home to New Jersey, where his pregnant wife observed his bloody clothes and asked what had happened. Azzollini responded that Raso had killed his wife and that he had helped dispose of her body. Azzollini's wife threatened to contact the police. After discussing the threat with Raso, the two men devised a plan to murder Azzollini's wife. While Azzollini visited a friend in North Bergen to establish an alibi, Raso murdered Azzollini's wife.

On November 26, 1979, a Hudson County Grand Jury returned a one count indictment against Azzollini charging him with aiding and abetting murder while armed, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:113-1; N.J.S.A. 2A:113-2; N.J.S.A. 2A:151-5; and N.J.S.A. 2A:85-14. Raso pled guilty to the murder and Azzollini went to trial. On November 19, 1980, a jury found defendant guilty as charged. Azzollini was immediately sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison for the first-degree murder conviction. Subsequently, on December 19, 1980, he was sentenced to an additional consecutive term of seven to eight years of imprisonment for the "while armed" portion of his conviction.

A New York jury also convicted Azzollini of second-degree murder of Raso's wife and he received a sentence of twenty-five years to life imprisonment, concurrent to his New Jersey sentence.

After serving approximately thirty-one years of his New Jersey sentence, Azzollini became eligible for parole for the third time on December 15, 2010. A hearing officer held an initial hearing on October 8, 2010, and referred the matter to a two-member Board panel pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.15(b).

On November 16, 2010, a two-member Board panel considered the case, denied parole and established a thirty-six month FET. The panel based its decision on the following factors: commission of institutional disciplinary infraction; insufficient problem resolution, including a lack of insight into criminal behavior and minimization of conduct; and the results of a risk assessment evaluation. Regarding mitigating factors, the panel noted that Azzollini has participated in institutional programs.

On May 10, 2011, Azzollini appealed the two-member panel's decision to the full Board. On November 30, 2011, the full Board affirmed the panel's decision to deny parole and establish a thirty-six-month FET. This appeal followed. Azzollini contends that the Board's decision was not supported by the record below, was not in compliance with due process requirements, and was otherwise arbitrary and capricious.

Our scope of review is a narrow one, and we review Azzollini's contentions in accordance with that standard. We must affirm unless the Board's decision was unreasonable, unsupported by credible evidence in the record or contrary to law. Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 172 (2001). In conducting this limited review, we must accord the Board's decision a presumption of validity, and the burden is on the challenging party to show that the Board's actions were unreasonable. Bowden v. Bayside State Prison, 268 N.J.Super. 301, 304 (App. Div. 1993), certif. denied, 135 N.J. 469 (1994). Moreover, because the Board's decisions are to be considered highly "individualized discretionary appraisals[, ]" the Board is vested with "broad but not unlimited discretionary powers" in reviewing an inmate's parole record and rendering a release decision. Trantino, supra, 166 N.J. at 173 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Because the offense here was committed in 1980, the standard applicable to the parole determination is contained in N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.53(a), which provides that the inmate shall be released unless "by a preponderance of the evidence . . . there is a substantial likelihood that the inmate will commit a crime . . . if released on parole . . ." Following a careful review of the record, we conclude that Azzollini's contentions are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). The Board's denial of parole and establishment of a thirty-six-month FET are fully supported by substantial credible evidence in the record.


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