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State v. Bell

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 20, 2013

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
LAWRENCE BELL, Defendant-Appellant.


Submitted October 7, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 91-05-1163.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (David A. Gies, Designated Counsel, on the briefs).

Warren W. Faulk, Camden County Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Laurie A. Corson,

Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).

Appellant filed a pro se supplemental brief.

Before Judges Ashrafi, St. John and Leone.


Defendant Lawrence Bell appeals the denial of his second PCR petition. He claims ineffective assistance of counsel in challenging the voluntariness of his confession. We affirm.


Defendant's convictions arose out of the kidnapping, rape, robbery, and murder of Hope Stauffer, and the kidnapping of her four-year-old son, committed with co-defendant James Earl Jones. The facts of the crimes are detailed in our prior opinions, and thus we simply summarize them here.

On June 29, 1990, shortly after midnight, Stauffer drove her two brothers and a friend to a bar as the designated driver. She waited in the car with her four-year-old son. Jones approached and distracted Stauffer while defendant entered the car and put a gun to her head. Defendant took the wheel while Jones got in the back seat and held the gun to her head. Defendant drove Stauffer, her son, and Jones to a deserted field in Camden. Defendant trained the gun on Stauffer while Jones took her behind the bushes. Jones threw Stauffer to the ground and began choking her. Defendant held her down, grabbed her neck, and threatened to hurt and shoot her. Jones then raped Stauffer. When Jones was done, defendant briefly penetrated her "a little bit."[1] Defendant claimed that he then returned to the car. Jones later emerged, saying "the lady ran." In fact, Stauffer was left naked and strangled. Defendant drove Jones away with Stauffer's son still in her car. They abandoned the car, and Jones took the boy to a relative, claiming he had found the child wandering. Jones was arrested. Based on information from Jones, police looked for defendant. Defendant came to the police station and gave a confession providing the details of the crimes set forth above.

Defendant was tried as an adult and testified at trial. He admitted joining in the robbery, but denied ever having a gun or seeing the gun Jones said he had. Defendant claimed he stayed in the car while Jones, who told defendant he wanted to have sex with the victim, took her into the bushes.

The jury disbelieved defendant and convicted him of murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1); felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3); first- and second-degree kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1b(1)-(2); robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2; possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a; unlawful possession of a handgun, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b; and sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3). The Honorable Isaiah Steinberg, J.S.C., sentenced defendant to prison for life plus fifty years, and made him ineligible for parole for fifty-five years. We affirmed. State v. Bell, A-1632-92 (App. Div. Mar. 7, 1996), certif. denied, 145 N.J. 371 (1996). Six years later, we affirmed the denial of his first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). State v. Bell, A-2328-99 (App. Div. Jan. 24, 2002), certif. denied, 172 N.J. 180 (2002). We later affirmed the denial of his motion for a new trial based on DNA testing, but remanded for an evidentiary hearing on his second PCR petition. State v. Bell, A-4895-05 (App. Div. Nov. 17, 2009), certif. denied, 201 N.J. 441 (2010).


We relate the circumstances of defendant's confession in greater detail. At a suppression hearing before Judge Steinberg on April 6, 1992, Detective Harry Glemser and defendant testified, agreeing in most respects. Both testified at trial consistently with their hearing testimony, adding some details. Accordingly, we consider their hearing and trial testimony together, and note the person testifying only where the testimony of Glemser and defendant differed.

At about 8:45 p.m. on June 29, Deborah Carter voluntarily brought defendant, aged fourteen years and ten months, to the Police Administration Building (PAB) in Camden. Carter was described as his stepmother or mother. Defendant ...

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