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State v. Houseknecht

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 23, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
KENNETH HOUSEKNECHT, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 8, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Indictment No. 89-08-000605.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Andrew P. Slowinski, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Jennifer E. Kmieciak, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Ostrer and Carroll.

PER CURIAM

Defendant Kenneth Houseknecht appeals from an order of the Law Division denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.

We briefly summarize the relevant procedural history and the facts based on the record before us.

In July 1991, following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1); first-degree felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3); second-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d; and third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d. In September 1991, defendant was sentenced to an aggregate term of life imprisonment, with a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility. We affirmed defendant's conviction on direct appeal, State v. Houseknecht, No. A-1352-91 (App. Div. February 23, 1995), and the Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for certification, 141 N.J. 94 (1995).

Our opinion on direct appeal describes the facts which led to defendant's conviction. Defendant, fourteen-years-old and tried as an adult, killed his twelve-year-old neighbor after she encountered him in her family home, which defendant had entered for the purpose of stealing money to pay a debt. Defendant stabbed the young girl ninety-five times, seventy-six times while she was alive. Defendant did not testify at trial, but called psychological and psychiatric witnesses. According to the defense experts, defendant was in a dissociative state at the time of the killing. The State presented its own expert witnesses, who found no evidence that defendant suffered any psychosis or altered state of consciousness. Ultimately, the jury rejected the proffered defenses that defendant was suffering from insanity, diminished capacity, and/or duress when the offenses were committed.

Defendant filed a pro se PCR petition in June 1996. It appears that little or no action was thereafter taken until new counsel was assigned in 2005. In March 2006, a verified PCR petition was filed by counsel, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. New counsel was again assigned in 2009, who in March 2010 filed a supplemental brief. On May 13, 2010, the judge denied defendant's motion to postpone the PCR hearing in order to present the expert testimony of Ruben C. Gur, Ph.D., regarding adolescent brain development.

On October 4, 2010, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing, during which it heard testimony from defendant, and from the attorney who represented him at the juvenile waiver hearing and assisted in his representation at the adult trial. Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson ...


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