State v. Dangcil

Decision Date10 February 2023
Docket NumberA-2118-20
PartiesSTATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. WILDEMAR A. DANGCIL, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division

This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court." Although it is posted on the internet this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.

Argued December 21, 2022

Brian J. Neary argued the cause for appellant (Law Offices of Brian J. Neary, attorneys; Brian J. Neary, of counsel and on the brief; Lois De Julio, on the brief).

Jaimee M. Chasmer, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for respondent (Mark Musella, Bergen County Prosecutor, attorney Jaimee M. Chasmer, of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges Mayer, Enright, and Puglisi.

PER CURIAM

Defendant Wildemar A. Dangcil appeals from his convictions and eighteen-year aggregate sentence following a jury trial. We affirm.

I.

Defendant and his estranged wife, Riley,[1] were married in 2016. The parties separated in October 2018 and their attempts to reconcile thereafter failed. On May 7, 2019, Riley spoke with defendant, told him their relationship was over, and asked him to "leave [her] alone" and "respect [her] decision." According to Riley, defendant verbally and physically abused her, and threatened her multiple times before she ended the relationship.

Between May 7 and June 6, 2019, defendant repeatedly attempted to contact Riley by calling her "at least five times to ten times a day" and sending her approximately 250 text messages. Riley did not respond to defendant's calls or texts.

Defendant also tried to contact Riley in person. On May 9, he and his mother drove to Riley's home, uninvited. Riley was at home with other family members when defendant's mother began ringing her doorbell. While defendant's mother continued to ring the doorbell, defendant sent Riley multiple text messages, one of which read, "I saw someone peek out. Don't disrespect Mama like that." Because defendant and his mother refused to leave the property, Riley called the police. Officers escorted defendant and his mother off the property. Later that evening and over the next couple of days, defendant continued calling and texting Riley.

On May 11, Riley spent the night at a friend's home. While she was falling asleep on a couch after midnight, she heard defendant say through an open window, "I'm outside." She also received a text message from defendant at 12:32 a.m., which stated, "I'm outside. Not here for trouble." Riley had not told defendant where she would be that night. She did not respond to him or his text.

On May 18, defendant approached Riley while she was sitting in her car with her father in a Home Depot parking lot. Defendant asked if she was going to speak with him. Riley's father told defendant "to go away" and soon after defendant left the area.

The next day, defendant repeatedly texted Riley. On the evening of May 19, after Riley was given a ride home, she received a text from defendant which read, "[f]uck you in a car with him for . . . ." and accused Riley of "treating [him] like shit . . . ." Closer to midnight, Riley received additional texts from defendant, one of which read, "[w]hose Jeep, [Riley], I'm [going] to set it on fire . . . tell me now." The text was accompanied by a photo of a Jeep and its license plate. Riley later testified she did not answer defendant's texts and the Jeep pictured in defendant's text belonged to a neighbor who parked the car near Riley's driveway.

Defendant's texts and calls to Riley continued over the next couple of weeks. For example, he texted her messages such as, "[w]e see you, baby" and "[w]hy don't you take the proper blame on this for once?" Defendant also sent an image of his location showing he was "right around the corner from" Riley's home. Again, Riley did not respond to these messages.

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on June 6, as Riley was sitting in her car in her driveway, she noticed defendant's car parked near the end of her driveway. Riley immediately called 9-1-1 to notify police her estranged husband was at her residence, in violation of a restraining order.[2] Defendant approached Riley's car with a "red gasoline container" in his hands. While her car doors were locked and her windows were closed, defendant asked Riley if she would ever speak to him again. Riley did not respond. Defendant tilted the gas can toward Riley's car and said, "I will fucking burn this car down." Riley immediately shifted her car into "park" and shut it off, fearing the car "was going to go on fire and explode if it was still running." Riley then exited her car and walked toward her house. Defendant asked Riley if she "called the cops on him" and she responded, "they're coming."

Once inside her home, Riley tried to communicate with her brother "to see if all of the [surveillance] cameras around the house were working." She did not observe defendant do anything else with the gasoline container nor see if he attempted to light a fire before he drove away from her home.

Officer Pedro Dominguez arrived on the scene and Riley ran outside to meet him. Dominguez noted Riley was "nervous" and "frantic." Riley told the officer defendant had just left and she gave the officer a description of defendant's car. Officer Dominguez realized he had just passed defendant's car. While speaking with Riley, Officer Dominguez smelled gasoline through the open passenger side window of his patrol car. Riley also detected a "strong smell of gasoline" as she spoke to Dominguez.

Shortly after Officer Dominguez left the scene to locate defendant, he spotted defendant's car in a line of traffic on Polifly Road in Hackensack. Once Dominguez turned on his emergency lights, he saw defendant's car make a U-turn and proceed northbound on Polifly Road. The officer immediately activated his emergency sirens and began pursuing defendant's car. As he tried to catch up to defendant's car, defendant made another U-turn. The officer left his vehicle, drew his service weapon, and shouted at defendant to stop. Defendant did not stop. Instead, he continued past Officer Dominguez's patrol car. The officer holstered his weapon, returned to his vehicle, and resumed pursuit but lost sight of defendant's car.

Officer Dominguez returned to Riley's home after the chase ended. By that point, investigators from the Arson Task force in the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, the fire department, and other officers were at the home to process the scene. Michael Blondin, an arson investigator, found discoloration on the ground near Riley's car, a nearby grassy area, and an area along a "vinyl fence, which me[t] the foundation of the house." Blondin collected a "soil sample within the discolored [grassy] area," which later tested positive for gasoline. Blondin recalled that when he used a shovel to retrieve a sample from the ground, "the smell [of gasoline] became more overwhelming." Although Blondin used a gauze pad to secure another sample from a discolored area on Riley's driveway, the sample produced no results.

Detective Michael Venezia from the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office also investigated the incident. When he arrived at Riley's home on June 6, he "detected the odor of gasoline" and observed discoloration around the "perimeter of the house . . . as well as [Riley's] vehicle."

That same evening, at approximately 5:25 p.m., defendant called Detective Kley Peralta at the Hackensack Police Department. Defendant was previously acquainted with Peralta and told him, "yo, I fucked up, I need your help . . . I just poured gas . . . around my girl's car" and "took off from your bros." Peralta told defendant to "say nothing else" and ended the call. After notifying his supervisors about the call and verifying what occurred at Riley's home, Peralta called defendant back, found out he was "at a dead end street in Little Ferry," and told defendant to "stay there" because the detective was "on [his] way" to meet him.

Detective Peralta found defendant's car in a parking lot in Little Ferry, but defendant was not in it. As he stood next to defendant's car, Peralta saw gas containers inside the vehicle "in plain view." Shortly thereafter, defendant was located in Teterboro and arrested.

The police obtained a search warrant for defendant's car and recovered a pack of cigarettes, a matchbook, a spark lighter, a neon red lighter, a blue lighter, and two butane lighters described as "mini blow torch[es]." The police also discovered a gas container containing liquid. The liquid was tested and found to be gasoline.

In August 2019, a grand jury indicted defendant, charging him with second-degree resisting arrest/eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b) (count one); fourth-degree contempt for violating a domestic violence restraining order, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b) (count two); third-degree terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a) (count three); second-degree attempted aggravated arson, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(a)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1(a)(1) (count four); and first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 (count five).

In anticipation of trial, the State moved to admit evidence of defendant's conduct toward Riley following the couple's separation. The motion judge conducted an extensive evidentiary hearing, during which Riley testified and granted the State's motion, in part. The judge found that to the extent defendant's crimes or acts predated May 2019, they were not "relevant to . . . whether in June of 2019, [defendant] violated a restraining order, attempted to kill [Riley], attempted to commit...

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