State v. Gerald

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Citation113 N.J. 40,549 A.2d 792
Parties, 83 A.L.R.4th 331 STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Walter M. GERALD, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date25 October 1988

Page 40

113 N.J. 40
549 A.2d 792, 83 A.L.R.4th 331
STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Walter M. GERALD, Defendant-Appellant.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued May 5, 1987.
Decided Oct. 25, 1988.

[549 A.2d 795]

Page 47

Lowell Espey, Flemington, and Kathryn A. Brock, Summit, Designated Counsel, for defendant-appellant (Alfred A. Slocum, Public Defender, attorney).

James R. Wronko, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (W. Cary Edwards, Atty. Gen., attorney; James R. Wronko and Boris Moczula, of counsel, and on the briefs).

[549 A.2d 796] The opinion of the Court was delivered by


Defendant was convicted of numerous offenses, including capital murder, surrounding an incident that resulted in the death of Paul Matusz. On the capital murder conviction defendant was sentenced to death, wherefore his appeal to this Court is as of right under Rule 2:2-1(a)(3). We affirm all of the judgments of conviction except the one for capital murder as charged in the thirteenth count of the indictment. On the capital murder charge the State acknowledges the necessity for a new penalty-phase proceeding, for the reasons expressed in the course of this opinion. Beyond that we have determined that defendant is entitled to a new trial on the question of guilt on that charge.

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The evidence produced at trial fully supported the version of the facts that follows.

John Matusz, eighty-nine years old, lived with his son Paul, age fifty-five, at the Matusz home in Pleasantville, in Atlantic County. Their home was located on a dark wooded corner in a secluded area. The elder Matusz, disabled because of a stroke, could walk only with the aid of a cane. Inasmuch as neither John nor Paul was self-sufficient, two of John's daughters, Helena Gaw and Lottie Wilson, took turns staying in the home, cooking, cleaning, and caring for both men.

On Friday, August 13, 1982, Lottie Wilson was staying at her father's home. At approximately 6:30 p.m., John Matusz retired for the evening to his first floor bedroom. Paul Matusz went to his upstairs bedroom where he watched television and later retired. In the living room Mrs. Wilson watched a baseball game on a new color television set, which sat atop an old console television set that no longer functioned. At approximately 9:30 she went to bed in her father's bedroom. Soon thereafter she heard a noise in the other first floor bedroom and went to investigate. As she opened the door to that room, she was struck in the eye by someone standing behind the door. Mrs. Wilson was then attacked by two black males, one of whom she later described as husky, tall, with a round face and a mustache or beard. One of the intruders had a knife or blade, although Mrs. Wilson was unable to recall which of the two it was. She was thrown to the floor, punched and kicked in the face, and then hurled into the bathroom. Mrs. Wilson recalled lying on the bathroom floor being stomped on a number of times about the face and chest by someone wearing a white-soled shoe. This man told her, "Shut up or I'll kill you." When he asked where the money was kept, she revealed the location of her purse. When her brother Paul heard Mrs. Wilson's screams, he came downstairs to investigate, whereupon

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two black males attacked him at the foot of the staircase. One of the men struck Paul in the face with a television set.

Shortly after the foregoing events, and not knowing whether the intruders were still in the house, Mrs. Wilson arose and went to the kitchen, where she telephoned her sister and the local police. Then Mrs. Wilson entered the living room where she saw her brother Paul lying on the floor with the old console TV overturned on his face. After succeeding in lifting the set from his face and turning it upright, Mrs. Wilson found Paul's face cold to her touch. John Matusz had been beaten and dragged from his bed into the hallway. He was leaning against the wall, bleeding profusely, still clutching the top portion of his cane, which was broken in half. Missing were Mrs. Wilson's purse with about $60 in cash, the new color television set, and an old black and white portable television set from Paul's upstairs bedroom.

Officer John Calcerano and Detective Henry Frank of the Pleasantville Police Department arrived at the Matusz home within minutes of Mrs. Wilson's telephone call. Although hysterical, Mrs. Wilson described the perpetrators and the events generally as recited above. Mrs. Wilson's face was swollen and beaten. Paul Matusz [549 A.2d 797] was unconscious and bleeding from the nose and mouth. On checking for signs of life, Detective Frank found that Paul was not breathing and had no pulse. Frank cleared Paul's air passage and began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. A third officer who arrived soon afterwards found Paul's pulse to be very weak. The officer continued the efforts to revive the victim. In the meantime Officer Calcerano applied bandages to John's wounds. All three victims were then taken to the hospital by ambulance. Other law-enforcement personnel arrived on the scene. The house was dusted for fingerprints none of which, as it was later determined, matched any of the defendants' prints. The officers concluded that the attackers' point of entry was a window in the first-floor bedroom in which Mrs. Wilson first was assaulted. The wood-

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framed screen had been pried off from the outside to permit access.

Paul Matusz, who suffered two fractured ribs, a broken nose, and multiple contusions of the face, sides of the head and brain resulting from blows to the head, died in the emergency room at Shore Memorial Hospital at about 10:48 p.m. He did not regain consciousness before death, and therefore made no statement regarding the identity of his assailant or assailants. When Dr. Donald Jason, Atlantic County Medical Examiner, examined Paul Matusz that night at the morgue, he noticed bruises across his face in three patterns. On Paul's forehead there were four imprints of a circular pattern, consisting of four concentric circles. Second, there was a herringbone-type pattern on the forehead next to the circular patterns. On the victim's face, below the right eye and to the left of the nose, there was a third pattern bruise, consisting of multiple rectangles. These bruises were photographed the next day at the autopsy, and according to Dr. Jason and various police witnesses the pictures accurately depicted the victim's appearance. Dr. Jason also observed a patterned bruise, consisting of four concentric circles, on Mrs. Wilson's face.

According to Dr. Jason, Paul's death was caused by blunt-force injuries to the head, specifically, cerebral concussions and a fractured nose, inflicted by blows of the fists and feet. These injuries resulted, respectively, in contusions and swelling of the brain, and aspiration of blood into the airway and lungs. Together, these conditions produced Paul's death. Because no blood was found in the victim's stomach, Dr. Jason concluded that Paul's nose was fractured after he lost consciousness. Had he been conscious, his gag reflex would have forced him to swallow the blood rather than inhale it into his lungs. Dr. Jason observed on Paul's nose a discernible sneaker print that could have been produced by the same force as caused the broken nose. He acknowledged as well that the console television set falling on Paul's face could "possibly" have fractured

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his nose, thereby resulting in the aspiration of blood as he lay unconscious on the floor.

Concerning the blows to the head, Dr. Jason concluded that a single first blow could have fractured the nose and simultaneously caused unconsciousness, but he pointed out that at least some of the blows to the head, especially on the left side where the most severe contusions of the head and brain were found, were delivered after Paul was unconscious. Finally, Dr. Jason determined that a single blow could not have caused the brain injury or the other injuries that he observed. Rather, the doctor surmised that the sum of the numerous blows and resultant various injuries caused the death; that it was medically impossible for him to differentiate the "fatal" blow from all others, and that this would have been so even had he watched the beating take place; and that while some of the blows might not have contributed to death, he could not specifically identify which ones had and which had not.

John Matusz suffered bruises and lacerations of the face from blunt-force injuries. There were indications that he had probably been beaten with a lamp. Those injuries required continued hospital care and convalescence treatment. He died on October 3, 1982, without ever having returned home. Lottie Wilson suffered a broken nose, abrasions, lacerations and contusions of the face, neck, and chest due to several [549 A.2d 798] blows, as well as smaller contusions on the rest of her body. She was hospitalized until August 25, 1982; her jaws were wired together for six weeks following the attack.


On August 16, 1982, Detective Frank received a call at home from an unknown informant who said that Walter Gerald, Jody Reese, and Nelson Drakeford had committed the Matusz murder. The informant reported that Gerald had offered to sell the informant stolen television sets and had told the informant how easy the burglary had been. The informant further told Detective

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Frank where Gerald lived and the type of car he drove. Finally, the informant stated that he wanted to be paid. Detective Frank told him to call Crime Stoppers, an organization that pays for information leading to the arrest and indictment of criminals.

Detective Frank immediately went to the Pleasantville Police Department. While he was there, the follow-up call came in from Crime Stoppers, repeating the information summarized above and providing additional information. The police learned that there were two outstanding...

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