September 26, 2013
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
RONALD LONG, Defendant-Appellant
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 20, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 85-04-0519.
Ronald Long, appellant pro se.
James P. McClain, Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Jack J. Lipari, Special Deputy Attorney General/ Acting Chief Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Graves and Simonelli.
Defendant Ronald Long appeals from the October 3, 2011 Law Division order, which denied his motion for reconsideration of the August 17, 2011 order denying his motion for fingerprint testing of ballistics evidence using a new technology and for a new trial based on newly-discovered evidence. We affirm.
We will not revisit this twenty-eight year old felony murder conviction that has been affirmed on appeal, State v. Long (Long I), 119 N.J. 439 (1990), and was the subject of other post-conviction relief petitions: State v. Long (Long II), No. A-3860-92 (App. Div. Jan. 3, 1995), certif. denied, 139 N.J. 441 (1995); State v. Long (Long III), No. A-6072-98 (App. Div. June 8, 2001), certif. denied, 170 N.J. 86 (2001); State v. Long (Long IV), No. A-0066-02 (App. Div. July 17, 2003), certif. denied, 178 N.J. 250 (2003); State v. Long (Long V), No. A-4219-03 (App. Div. Jan. 27, 2005), certif. denied, 183 N.J. 215 (2005); and State v. Long (Long VI), No. A-1413-07 (App. Div. Aug. 14, 2009), certif. denied, 200 N.J. 548 (2009).
This appeal involves defendant's attempt to have ballistics evidence examined for fingerprints using a newly-developed technology. The evidence at trial confirmed that the same .25 caliber automatic pistol fired the bullets that were removed from two victims. Long I, supra, 119 N.J. at 455. It was also determined from a shell casing that a third victim had been shot by the same caliber weapon used in the other two shootings. Long II, supra, No. A-3860-92 (slip op. at 14). Defendant's theory was that the gun may have been recovered and used in other shootings while he was incarcerated. Long I, supra, 199 N.J. at 455; Long III, supra, No. A-6072-98 (slip op. at 15). However, the substantial evidence at trial established that the murder weapon was never recovered because defendant disposed of it in a river, a fact he admitted to two individuals. Long III, supra, No. A-6072-98 (slip op. at 15). In addition, we found that "[t]he proof of guilt, including defendant's admissions to three other people, eyewitness identification testimony, and ballistics evidence, was overwhelming. Long II, supra, No. A-0066-02 (slip op. at 18).
In this most recent application, defendant sought to compel the New Jersey State Police to submit the bullets and shell casing to a British forensic scientist, John W. Bond, D.Phil., for fingerprint testing using a new technology Dr. Bond described in John W. Bond, Visualization of Latent Fingerprint Corrosion of Metallic Surfaces" 53 J. Forensic Sci. 812 (2008) available at http://www.the heat project.com/wp-content/uploads/vis-of-latent-fp-corrosion-metalic-surfaces.pdf. Defendant argued that the fingerprints of another individual on the shell casing would prove his innocence, and Dr. Bond's technique would give a more definitive and conclusive determination as to whether the three bullets were fired by the same handgun and whether any of the bullets matched other crimes that were committed before and after defendant's arrest.
In an August 17, 2011 oral opinion, Judge Kyran Connor noted that Dr. Bond was not a ballistics expert and his alleged expertise was not designed for anything other than enhancing fingerprint recovery from metal surfaces. The judge determined that fingerprints, if found, on the shell casing could come from many sources and there was no evidence at trial of a viable alternative suspect. Thus, the judge concluded there was no reasonable probability that any additional testing would lead to a truly viable alternate suspect or establish defendant's innocence. The judge subsequently denied defendant's motion for reconsideration. This appeal followed.
On appeal, defendant raises the following contention:
THE LAW DIVISION JUDGE ERRED BY DENYING THE MOTION FOR NEW FORENSIC EXAMINATION OF THE BULLETS AND SHELL CASING, BY FAILING TO BALANCE THE NEED FOR THE REQUESTED TESTING WITH THE TRUE FACTS OF THE CASE, WHICH WILL PROVIDE THE BASIS FOR GRANTING A NEW TRIAL BASED UPON NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE[.] WHEREFORE, THE MATTER SHOULD BE REMANDED TO THE LAW DIVISION.
"[A] motion for a new trial is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge, and the exercise of that discretion will not be interfered with on appeal unless a clear abuse has been shown." State v. Russo, 333 N.J.Super. 119, 137 (App. Div. 2000). As for the denial of a motion for reconsideration, we have determined:
Reconsideration itself is a matter within the sound discretion of the [c]ourt, to be exercised in the interest of justice[.] It is not appropriate merely because a litigant is dissatisfied with a decision of the court or wishes to reargue a motion, but should be utilized only for those cases which fall into that narrow corridor in which either 1) the [c]ourt has expressed its decision based upon a palpably incorrect or irrational basis, or 2) it is obvious that the [c]ourt either did not consider, or failed to appreciate the significance of probative, competent evidence.
[Palombi v. Palombi, 414 N.J.Super. 274, 288 (App. Div. 2010) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).]
We will not disturb a trial judge's denial of a motion for reconsideration absent an abuse of discretion. Cummings v. Bahr, 295 N.J.Super. 374, 389 (App. Div. 1996).
We have considered defendant's contention in light of the record and applicable legal principles and conclude it is without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We discern no abuse of discretion in the denial of defendant's motions and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Connor in his well-reasoned August 17, 2011 oral opinion.