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State v. Locus

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 17, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
DANIEL LOCUS, a/k/a MICHAEL BAKER, a/k/a DANIEL LOCUS, JR., Defendant-Appellant.


Submitted September 16, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment Nos. 05-09-3713 and 09-02-0791.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Gilbert G. Miller, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).

William W. Faulk, Camden County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Linda A. Shashoua, Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Appellant file a pro se supplemental brief.

Before Judges Yannotti, Ashrafi and St John.


Defendant Daniel Locus was tried before a jury and found guilty of first-degree murder and other offenses. Defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction entered by the trial court on August 13, 2010. We affirm.


On February 25, 2009, defendant was charged in Camden County Indictment No. 09-02-0791 with first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) or (2) (count one); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) (count two); second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) (count three); third-degree endangering an injured victim, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.2 (count four); and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b) (count five). Thereafter, the trial court conducted a Wade[1]hearing and determined that the identifications by the State's witnesses were admissible.

At the trial, the State presented evidence which established that on June 9, 2008, at around 10:30 p.m., Anthony Ball was shot in the head at close range near an abandoned house on Pine Street in Camden. The gun used was a .380 caliber Llama-brand pistol, and a .380 casing was found on the first step of the house. The murder weapon was never found. Ball was taken to a hospital and placed on a respirator. He died two days later after his mother authorized the removal of life support.

Madonna Caraballo was Ball's friend. She had been using heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol for years. In June 2008, Caraballo was homeless. In the previous months, Caraballo had been purchasing crack cocaine from defendant, whom she knew as "Pooh" or "Pooh Bear." Defendant operated out of a "drug house" on Pine Street in Camden, which was known as "Lawrence's House."

Sometime during the day on June 9, 2008, Caraballo and Ball purchased cocaine from defendant. That night, Caraballo and Ball wanted to purchase more cocaine but they did not have any money. Ball suggested that they steal some drugs from defendant's stash, which he kept in an alley adjacent to an abandoned house on Pine Street, across the street from Lawrence's House. They planned to have Caraballo meet defendant behind the abandoned house and keep him occupied there by offering to engage in a sex act, while Ball took the drugs. However, when defendant met Caraballo behind the house, he told her to "get lost" and left.

Caraballo testified that she came out from behind the house and started to walk down the alley. She saw Ball crouched near the drug stash at the other end of the alley. Ball got up and started to walk back to Pine Street. As Caraballo reached the sidewalk on Pine Street, she saw a flash and heard a shot. She did not realize immediately that Ball had been shot. Caraballo left with her friend, Walter Boyd (Boyd), who told Caraballo he could not believe "Pooh" had done "that."

Boyd also had purchased crack from defendant from time to time. He knew Ball. Boyd testified that on the evening of June 9, 2008, he walked near the abandoned house with Caraballo, but they separated while Boyd approached defendant, who was standing in front of Lawrence's House.

Boyd purchased drugs from defendant and, as he was walking away, he heard a sound like a gunshot. Boyd looked back. He saw Ball fall near the alley and observed defendant running away. Boyd said defendant was the only person near Ball on that side of the street at the time and defendant was the only person he saw running away from Ball.

Patricia Myers knew defendant as well. She had been purchasing drugs from him regularly during the previous two years. Myers also knew Ball. They had smoked crack cocaine together. On the evening of June 9, 2008, Myers was on the corner of Pine Street and St. John's alley. She did not have any money to buy drugs. Defendant and other persons told her to leave the area. She moved down the street and sat on the top of the steps in front of a row house.

Myers saw Ball come down the street. He went over to the abandoned house and into the alleyway. Myers observed Ball reach down into the weeds where the drugs were stashed. Myers said that defendant was across the street by Lawrence's House. He walked across the street toward Ball and, according to Myers, said he was going "to blow" Ball's "fucking brains out." According to Myers, Ball walked back to the house by the alley. Defendant approached Ball and shot him in the head. Myers said she saw the flash of the gun. She also saw Ball fall and defendant run off. Myers ran away. She said she was "scared for [her] life."

Angela Bumpers had known defendant for about fifteen years. She also knew Ball. In June 2008, Bumpers was using heroin and crack cocaine and had been purchasing drugs from defendant in the previous months. On the evening of June 9, 2008, Bumpers was sitting out near a gas station at the intersection of Pine Street and Broadway, facing Pine Street. She saw Ball walk past her and head toward Lawrence's House. Ball went across to the abandoned house. Bumpers heard a gunshot. She saw Ball grab his head and fall. She stated that defendant was the only person around Ball, and she saw him put a gun in his pocket and run away.

Investigator James Bruno responded to the scene of the shooting. Bruno initially learned that someone named "Pooh" or "Pooh Bear" was the last person seen with Ball. On further investigation, Bruno learned that James Williams (Williams) went by the name "Pooh" and had been arrested on unrelated charges on June 10, 2008, three hours after the shooting. Bruno interviewed Williams, who told him that, while he had seen Ball on the night of the shooting, he was not in the area when the shooting occurred.

On June 11, 2008, the Camden police executed a search warrant at Lawrence's House. The police obtained information from defendant, who was outside the house at the time. On June 12, 2008, Bruno learned that Myers had been an eyewitness to the shooting. Myers told Bruno she was present at the time and the man responsible was her drug dealer, from whom she had purchased drugs on a regular basis over two years, including the night of the murder.

Bruno showed Myers a photograph of Williams, but she said he was not the shooter. Bruno thereafter asked the police intelligence unit to compile a book of photographs of persons who had been arrested in the area of Lawrence's House, or who had some connection to the area. The book contained twenty-two photos, including photos of Williams and defendant.

In early July of 2008, Bruno was notified that Caraballo wanted to speak to him about the homicide. At the time, Caraballo was incarcerated in the county jail. Caraballo told Bruno that on the evening of June 9, 2008, she was behind the abandoned house where Ball was shot. Caraballo said Boyd observed the shooting. Later, Bruno spoke with Boyd, who told him that Bumpers, who was also in the county jail, had also witnessed the shooting.

On July 2, 2008, Caraballo, Boyd, and Bumpers were separately interviewed and shown the book of twenty-two photos. At the time, neither Williams nor defendant were suspects. Boyd identified defendant as the person from whom he had purchased drugs shortly before Ball was shot. Boyd said that after he purchased the drugs, he heard a gunshot. He turned and saw defendant running from the place where Ball was shot and fell.

Caraballo identified defendant as someone she knew as "Pooh Bear" and from whom she regularly purchased drugs. Bumpers told the investigators that she knew defendant and saw him with a gun in his hand on the night of the homicide. Bumpers said she saw a flash when the gun went off, and defendant ran from Ball as he fell.

The following day, Bruno met with Myers to determine if defendant was the person whom she saw shoot Ball. Bruno showed Myers a picture of defendant, but did not tell Myers who he was or whether any other witnesses had identified him. Myers identified defendant as the shooter.

Defendant was arrested on July 7, 2008. While defendant was incarcerated in the county jail, he spoke about the charges with Ernest Braxton, who also was incarcerated there. Defendant asked whether Braxton could help him secure an insanity plea. Defendant and Braxton had both worked for the same person selling drugs at "Lawrence's House, " and they had known each other for two or three years. Braxton also knew Ball.

Braxton testified that defendant told him "they locked him up for" Ball's murder. Braxton said he had heard Ball had been shot in the back of the head, but defendant indicated with hand gestures that Ball was shot in his left temple. Braxton subsequently reported this conversation to Bruno.

Braxton further testified that, a few days before the shooting, defendant asked him for bullets for his gun. Braxton asked defendant what kind of gun, and defendant pulled out his gun and said ".380." Braxton was familiar with guns and recognized the gun as a Llama, and said "You need [a] .380 Llama. [You] [d]on't need .380s, you need [a] .380 Llama."

Gerald Feigin, M.D., the Medical Examiner of Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties, testified that he performed an autopsy on Ball on June 12, 2008. Dr. Feigin determined that the death was a homicide, caused by a gunshot wound inflicted from about six inches away from the left side corner of Ball's left eye, with the bullet passing through the brain and lodging in the back right side of his skull.

Detective Sergeant James Ryan, an expert in firearms, examined the bullet taken from Ball's skull and the shell found at the crime scene. Ryan said the shell was a .380 caliber casing and the bullet was consistent with a .380 caliber bullet. He ...

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