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State v. Vargas

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 13, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ANGEL L. VARGAS, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 13, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Indictment No. 07-03-0179.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Frank M. Gennaro, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Jennifer Webb-McRae, Cumberland County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (G. Harrison Walters, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Graves and Ashrafi.

PER CURIAM

Defendant Angel Vargas appeals from a February 14, 2012 order denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.

Following a trial in December 2008, a jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second-degree aggravated assault by causing serious bodily injury to Hugo Narvaez, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); third-degree aggravated assault by causing significant bodily injury to Martin Cortez, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(7); and two counts of third-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(2). After appropriate mergers, the court sentenced defendant to concurrent fifteen-year terms of imprisonment for each of the armed robbery convictions, subject to the eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility mandated by the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on September 10, 2006, Hugo Narvaez and Martin Cortez were stabbed several times during the course of a robbery that occurred outside the Chestnut Square apartments in Vineland. Both men were severely injured. Nine days later, when defendant was questioned by the police, he initially denied he was at the scene of the crimes. However, defendant subsequently admitted he was at the scene and that his co-defendant, Josue Olivo, was the person who stabbed the victims while defendant was acting as the lookout. According to defendant, Olivo got $13 from the victims and used it to buy crack cocaine.

Defendant was tried separately and was the only witness for the defense. Defendant testified he told Olivo to stop stabbing the victims, but defendant did not do anything else to stop Olivo because he did not want "to be the next victim." In addition, defendant testified on cross-examination that he only agreed to be the lookout because he knew Olivo had a knife, and defendant felt his "life was in danger." Defendant admitted, however, he never mentioned in his statement to the police that Olivo threatened him.

On his direct appeal, defendant presented four arguments:

POINT I
DEFENDANT WAS DENIED THE RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL DUE TO LOWER COURT'S FAILURE TO PRECLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY CONCERNING ...

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