State v. Hunt

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtPOLLOCK; HANDLER
Citation115 N.J. 330,558 A.2d 1259
Decision Date09 June 1989
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. James I. HUNT, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 330

115 N.J. 330
558 A.2d 1259
STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
James I. HUNT, Defendant-Appellant.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Jan. 19, 1988.
Decided June 9, 1989.

[558 A.2d 1263]

Page 339

Mark H. Friedman and Claudia Van Wyk, Asst. Deputy Public Defenders, for defendant-appellant (Alfred A. Slocum, Public Defender, attorney).

Catherine A. Foddai, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (W. Cary Edwards, Atty. Gen., attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


Defendant, James I. Hunt, was convicted by a jury of murder and sentenced to death. He filed a direct appeal challenging both the conviction and the sentence. R. 2:2-1(a)(3). We affirm defendant's conviction for murder, but we reverse the imposition of the death penalty.

We hold that in the penalty phase the trial court failed to instruct the jury that it must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. State v. Biegenwald, 106 N.J. 13, 63-67, 524 A.2d 130 (1987) (Biegenwald II ). Additionally, the charge on the aggravating factor described in N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c) (subsequently described as section "c(4)(c)") erroneously directed the jury to determine whether defendant's conduct was "outrageously or wantonly

Page 340

vile, horrible or inhuman," and not whether it "involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim." See State v. Ramseur, 106 N.J. 123, 524 A.2d 188 (1987). Finally, the trial court failed to determine, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3b, if the jury had reached a final verdict when it advised the court that it could not agree on the imposition of the death penalty. Because the jury may have been unable to agree that defendant should be put to death, he may not again be subjected to the death penalty. Consequently, we remand the matter to the Law Division for the imposition of a non-capital sentence pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3b. In light of our determination that defendant may not be subject to the death penalty, we find to be harmless error the trial court's failure to instruct the jury that it must find that defendant knowingly or purposely caused death and not that he intended to cause serious bodily harm resulting in death. See State v. Gerald, 113 N.J. 40, 69, 549 A.2d 792 (1988).



During the morning of December 2, 1982, the victim, Edward Lawson, and Charlotte Hunt were watching television in their sixth-floor apartment at 306 Cooper Street, Camden. Charlotte Hunt was defendant's sister, as well as Lawson's live-in companion and the mother of his infant son. Around 12:30 p.m., Lawson, who had taken some prescribed medication, fell asleep.

About this time, Harold Hunt, defendant's cousin, left his apartment located at 311 Cooper Street, across the street from Lawson's apartment. Harold was crossing the street when co-defendant, Kenneth Thompson, attempted to speak with him about Charlotte, whom Thompson believed to be Harold's sister. Harold informed Thompson that Charlotte was his cousin, not his sister, and then shouted to defendant, who was living in Harold's second-floor apartment. Defendant left the apartment and joined Harold and Thompson. Harold left, and Thompson, who apparently had never before met defendant, told him that

Page 341

Charlotte had been looking for defendant three days earlier on November 29, 1982, because Lawson had beaten her.

Defendant asked Thompson to go to Charlotte's apartment and ask her if she would leave to talk to defendant. While Thompson went upstairs to get Charlotte, defendant returned to his apartment and entered the kitchen, where Patricia Fennell, Harold Hunt's live-in girl friend, was preparing food. Defendant opened the dresser in which Fennell kept her cooking utensils and grabbed a silver knife. According to Fennell, as defendant grabbed the knife, he said, "I told this motherfucker about fucking with my sister." From the kitchen, Fennell saw defendant run across the street to 306 Cooper Street, where Charlotte and Lawson lived.

[558 A.2d 1264] Fennell rushed across the street, and on reaching the sixth floor, saw Thompson holding a knife and heard him say to defendant, "[c]ome on Man, we got to go. I'm going on up here and do what I got to do." Defendant replied, "I know what I got to do." Fennell, who also heard Thompson complain that Lawson had refused to sell him valium, attempted to defuse the situation by telling defendant that Charlotte would return to Lawson no matter what happened. Charlotte, who had left her apartment, joined the group in the hallway. On noticing his sister's broken lip, defendant expressed anger about Lawson's abuse of her. At this point, Fennell left, realizing that she could not dissuade defendant. Shortly thereafter, about 2:00 p.m., defendant and Thompson pushed their way into Charlotte's apartment and told her to leave. She pleaded with them to leave Lawson alone because he was still groggy and unable to defend himself. Nevertheless, defendant and Thompson awakened Lawson and began to scuffle with him. Charlotte unsuccessfully yelled at them to stop and threatened to call the police. As she grabbed her baby and fled for help, Charlotte saw defendant with a knife in his hand moving toward Lawson, whom Thompson was holding.

Page 342

Approximately one half-hour later, at about 2:30 p.m., Lucille Taylor, Thompson's live-in girl friend, was watching television in the bedroom of their fourth-floor apartment at 306 Cooper Street when Hunt burst into the room, followed by Thompson. When defendant entered the room, he was holding a knife. Taylor noticed blood all over Hunt's clothing, his face and hands, as well as the knife. At one point, defendant exclaimed, "I killed him. I broke the knife in him." Thompson told Taylor to get some clean clothes for defendant and some trash bags. According to a statement Taylor made to the police on December 2, after defendant left the room and entered the bathroom to clean up and change his clothes, Thompson said "he [as if referring to himself] just killed a nigger."

After both defendant and Thompson had changed their clothes and washed themselves, they put their blood-stained clothes and knives into trash bags. According to Taylor's statement, Thompson threw his bag onto the roof of the building next to 306 Cooper Street, and Hunt threw his bag into a dumpster behind the apartment building.

In the interim, at approximately 2:10 p.m., Charlotte had found the building manager, Willie Hannah, who called the police and then ran upstairs to Lawson's apartment, where he found Lawson slumped behind the bathroom door. When the emergency medical team arrived at approximately 2:30 p.m., Hannah left Lawson's apartment and discovered Charlotte in the hallway crying hysterically. In response to Hannah's questioning, Charlotte initially said that four men had beaten Lawson, but she later admitted that defendant and Thompson were the assailants.

When the emergency medical technicians located Lawson's body behind the bathroom door, it was still warm but showed no vital signs. The technicians noted multiple stab wounds on Lawson's body. Blood frothing from his mouth indicated internal bleeding. The technicians also found about one and one-half pints of blood in a baby bathtub near Lawson.

Page 343

The pathologist who performed the autopsy, Dr. Catherman, testified that the cause of death was loss of blood due to multiple stab wounds. Although Dr. Catherman could not determine how long it took for Lawson to bleed to death, he suggested a period of ten to twenty minutes, depending on the rapidity of Lawson's heartbeat, which would have determined how rapidly he lost blood.

The following day, when the police and a representative of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office returned to 306 Cooper Street, Taylor led them to the roof and to the dumpster. They found the bag containing Thompson's clothing on the roof and defendant's clothing in the dumpster. The police also recovered two knives and one handle.


Two months later, on February 17, 1983, defendant and Thompson were indicted for [558 A.2d 1265] Lawson's murder and other offenses. A superseding indictment charged both defendants with the following offenses: knowing murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(2); conspiracy to commit murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2; hindering the apprehension or prosecution of each other, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(a)(3); unlawfully entering Lawson's apartment for the purpose of committing an offense therein, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; and possessing a weapon, a knife, for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4d. Both defendants were also charged with committing knowing murder by their own conduct, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(2).

The court denied as unnecessary the defendants' and prosecution's motions for an order precluding peremptory challenges based on race. Also, the court denied defendants' motions requiring attorney-conducted voir dire, objecting to death qualifying the jury, requesting dismissal of the indictment because of the alleged unconstitutionality of the death penalty, and requesting that aggravating factor c(4)(c) be stricken as unconstitutionally

Page 344

vague. In response to another defense motion, the court reserved ruling on the admissibility of Thompson's out-of-court statement implicating defendant, and later denied defendant's motion for a severance of his trial from Thompson's. Subsequently, the court ruled that evidence relating to a prior stabbing incident between defendant and Lawson would be admissible pursuant to Evidence Rule 55, to establish motive or intent. The court also denied defendant's motion for more information why aggravating factor c(4)(c) applied to his case. Finally, the court denied defendant's motion to dismiss the charge of hindering Thompson's apprehension, as well as the State's motion to amend the indictment...

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66 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 7, 2007
    ...e.g., State v. Culberth, 390 So.2d 847, 851 (La.1980); Domingues v. State, 112 Nev. 683, 917 P.2d 1364, 1377-78 (1996); State v. Hunt, 115 N.J. 330, 558 A.2d 1259, 1289-90 (1989). These decisions 486 F.3d 39 do not dictate a result favorable to Sampson in this case. While they illustrate th......
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