State v. Carter

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Citation449 A.2d 1280,91 N.J. 86
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Rubin CARTER and John Artis, Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date17 August 1982

Leon Friedman and Myron Beldock, New York City, members of the New York bar, for defendant-appellant Rubin Carter (Busch & Busch, New Brunswick, and Perkins & Cassidy, Jersey City, attorneys; Leon Friedman, Myron Beldock, Thomas I. Atkins, Charles E. Carter and James I. Meyerson, New York City, members of the New York bar, of counsel).

Lewis M. Steel, New York City, a member of the New York bar, for defendant-appellant John Artis (Louis S. Raveson, Jeffrey E. Fogel, Newark, and Perkins & Cassidy, Jersey City, attorneys; Lewis M. Steel, Leon Friedman, Thomas I. Atkins, Charles E. Carter and James I. Meyerson, New York City, members of the New York bar, of counsel).

John P. Goceljak, First Asst. Prosecutor, and Ronald G. Marmo, Chief Asst. Prosecutor, Patterson, for plaintiff-respondent (Joseph A. Falcone, Passaic County Prosecutor, Little Falls, attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


This is another episode arising out of the murder convictions of Rubin Carter and John Artis. The matter first came before us in 1969 following their convictions for the murders of a bartender and two patrons in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in the City of Patterson. Three life sentences were imposed on each defendant. Two consecutive life sentences were imposed upon Carter, with the third to be concurrent with the second life term. As to Artis, the three life terms were concurrent. We affirmed the convictions. 54 N.J. 436, 255 A.2d 746 (1969). The United States Supreme Court denied their petitions for certiorari. 397 U.S. 948, 90 S.Ct. 969, 25 L.Ed.2d 130 (1970).

The defendants sought a new trial, asserting that the State's key identification witnesses had recanted their trial testimony, that the prosecutors had knowingly permitted these witnesses to testify falsely, and that the State had failed to disclose material evidence that would have tended to exculpate the defendants. Two separate motions for a new trial were denied by the trial court, State v. Carter, 136 N.J.Super. 271, 345 A.2d 808 (Cty.Ct.1974), and State v. Carter, 136 N.J.Super. 596, 347 A.2d 383 (Cty.Ct.1975). Defendants appealed and we certified the matter on our own motion. We vacated the judgment because the State had not disclosed to the defendants a tape recording of an interview of an eyewitness, Alfred Bello, containing information material and favorable to the defendants' cause that "clearly possessed the capacity to have affected the jury's evaluation of the credibility of Bello's ... identification testimony." 69 N.J. 420, 434, 354 A.2d 627 (1976).

The retrial commenced on October 12, 1976 and concluded on December 21, 1976 when the jury again returned verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree. The Appellate Division affirmed in an extensive unreported opinion. We granted the defendants' petitions for certification, 84 N.J. 384, 420 A.2d 314 (1980). After oral argument, we remanded the cause to the trial court to hold hearings and make factual findings to determine whether the rule in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), had been violated and whether the violation warranted vacation of the judgments of conviction. Further, if the trial court found no Brady violation, it was to determine whether a new trial should be granted based on newly discovered evidence. State v. Carter, 85 N.J. 300, 426 A.2d 501 (1981). We retained jurisdiction. We intimated no view on the ultimate merits of these issues or of defendants' numerous other claims of error.

The trial court held extensive hearings and submitted detailed findings. It found that there was no Brady violation, and that a new trial was not warranted on the basis of newly discovered evidence. We held further oral argument and now affirm.

I Weight of the Evidence

Both defendants argue that the jury verdicts were contrary to the weight of the evidence and that the trial court erred in not granting their motions for a new trial. Our obligation in this respect is to determine whether "it clearly and convincingly appears that there was a manifest denial of justice under the law." See State v. Sims, 65 N.J. 359, 373-74, 322 A.2d 809 (1974); R. 2:10-1. Indeed, in reviewing a trial court's action on a motion for a new trial following a jury verdict, the appellate court must weigh heavily the trial court's "views of credibility of witnesses, their demeanor, and [its] general 'feel of the case.' " Id. at 373, 322 A.2d 809. The evidence should be sifted to determine whether any trier of fact could rationally have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the essential elements of the crime were present. See Jackson v. Concord Co., 54 N.J. 113, 253 A.2d 793 (1969). Tested by these standards, the verdict is sustainable.

A brief summary of the evidence introduced in the second trial is in order. The tragedy occurred at the Lafayette Bar and Grill on June 17, 1966. William Marins was seated at the bar with his friend, Fred Nauyaks. Hazel Tanis was also there and the bartender, James Oliver, was behind the bar. At about 2:30 a. m., two armed black men entered and began shooting. Oliver and Nauyaks were killed immediately. Tanis suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died four weeks later. Marins was shot in the temple.

Patricia Valentine lived above the tavern. Awakened by gunshots at about 2:30 a. m., she ran to the window and saw two black men run to an automobile and drive away. The car was white and had taillights shaped like triangles, wider at the outside and tapering toward the center. The rear lights did not extend across the whole back of the car. It had out-of-state license plates with yellow or gold numbers on a dark blue background. Mrs. Valentine saw the car leave the corner of Lafayette and East 18th Streets, where the tavern was located and head west on Lafayette Street toward East 16th Street. She threw a raincoat over her pajamas and ran downstairs to the bar where she met Bello at the front door. He cautioned her not to go inside, but she did. She observed the scene and returned to her apartment and called the police. Mrs. Valentine dressed and went back downstairs. She gave Police Officer Alexander Greenough a description of the car. Shortly before 3:00 a. m., two police cars escorted a white car to the Lafayette Bar and Grill. Carter and Artis were in that car. It was a new white 1966 Dodge Polara with New York State license plates having yellow numbers on a dark blue background. Carter, who had leased the car, had not loaned it to anyone else that night. Mrs. Valentine identified this vehicle as the same one she had seen twenty minutes earlier.

Bello testified that Arthur Bradley and he were in the process of breaking into the Ace Metal Company offices located near the Lafayette Bar and Grill. Bello, who was acting as a lookout, walked down Lafayette Street toward the tavern to purchase some cigarettes. He testified at the trial that he heard some shots and saw two black males come around the corner, one carrying a shotgun and the other a pistol. Bello ran into a nearby alleyway. When he heard the screeching of a car, he came out and saw a white vehicle drive away. He noticed that the rear lights were triangular in shape and that the car had New York or Pennsylvania license plates. Bello went into the bar, took some money from the cash register and telephoned the police.

Bello told Officer Greenough of the white car with the blue and yellow license plates and the two black males. When Carter and Artis were brought to the bar in the 1966 Dodge automobile, Bello identified it as the same vehicle he had previously seen. Bello did not tell the police that Carter and Artis were the same individuals he had previously seen with the weapons. A month later, Bello met Paterson Police Officer Donald LaConte and explained why Bradley and he had been in the vicinity. In October, Bello told LaConte that Carter and Artis were the two armed men at the scene. He identified them to the police in an interview on October 11 and in a formal statement signed on October 14, 1966. He testified to the same effect in the 1967 trial.

Subsequently, while in jail in 1974, Bello signed a statement at the behest of Fred Hogan of the Monmouth County Public Defender's Office in which he recanted his 1967 trial testimony. In that statement he said that he could not positively identify Carter and Artis. On October 30, 1975, Bello met with Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins who, at Governor Byrne's request, was investigating the case. His affidavit obtained by Hawkins stated he was in the bar when the shooting occurred. He did not recall seeing Carter and Artis in the bar, but did remember seeing them when he ran outside the bar. Bello also gave a second affidavit to Hawkins in which he related that two black men came in the side door and started shooting.

In December 1975, Bello testified before an Essex County Grand Jury. He said then that as he entered the tavern, he noticed a white Dodge at the side of the building. Two black males entered by the side door and began shooting. He went out the front door and, as he turned left, he ran into a white man. He then turned in the other direction and saw Carter and Artis. At the 1976 trial Bello returned to his original story. He testified that Carter and Artis were the two men he had seen outside the Lafayette Bar and Grill carrying a shotgun and pistol, respectively.

Officers Greenough and John Unger were the first police to reach the scene in response to a radio report of the shooting. They were flagged down by Bello who was standing by the curb. Sergeant Robert Tanis and Officer John Nativo were on patrol when they received a radio alert at about 2:34 a. m. They had been traveling west on Broadway. They turned...

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