State v. Koedatich

Decision Date03 August 1988
Citation112 N.J. 225,548 A.2d 939
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. James Jerold KOEDATICH, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

David A. Ruhnke and Jean D. Barrett, Designated Counsel, West Orange, for defendant-appellant (Alfred A. Slocum, Public Defender, attorney).

Joseph Connor, Jr., Asst. Prosecutor, for plaintiff-respondent (Lee S. Trumbull, Morris County Prosecutor, attorney).

Catherine A. Foddai, Deputy Atty. Gen., for amicus curiae Atty. Gen. of New Jersey (W. Cary Edwards, Atty. Gen., attorney).

Eric Neisser, Newark, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


In October 1984, a Morris County jury convicted the defendant, James J. Koedatich, for the murder of Amie Hoffman and sentenced him to death. He appeals directly to this Court as of right. See R. 2:2-1(a)(3). We affirm defendant's murder conviction. Because the trial court failed to instruct the jury properly in the sentencing phase, however, we must reverse the sentence of death and remand for a new sentencing procedure.

I. Facts
A. The Disappearance, Discovery of the Body, Investigation, and Arrest

In November 1982, Amie Hoffman was an eighteen-year-old senior and a cheerleader at Parsippany Hills High School. She was employed part-time at the Surprise Store in the Morris County Mall. She was last seen alive at aproximately 9:30 p.m. on November 23, 1982, shortly after she left work as she walked toward her car in the parking lot of the Morris County Mall. Two days later on Thanksgiving Day, November 25 1982, the police discovered her body floating face-down in a water retention tank located in a wooded and secluded area of Randolph Township. Amie Hoffman had been stabbed several times, receiving a wound to the chest, which caused her to bleed to death. Medical evidence submitted at trial indicated that Amie had been the victim of a sexual assault. Other medical evidence established that she died approximately three to four hours after she left the mall.

Testimony at trial established that Amie's life for the few days prior to her death was relatively uneventful. On Sunday, November 21, 1982, Amie awoke at 10:30 a.m., and at 12:30 p.m. her childhood friend and fellow cheerleader, Karyn Speak, arrived and drove Amie to Timothy Day's home, where with a group of friends she watched a football game on television. At the conclusion of the football game, Day drove his friends to the Rainbow Lakes Firehouse in Intervale, where a spaghetti dinner took place in honor of the school's cheerleaders and football players. At the firehouse, there occurred an accident that forced Karyn Speak to seek emergency medical treatment at the hospital. Amie accompanied Mrs. Speak, Karyn's mother, to the hospital, and remained there for about ninety minutes while Karyn was treated. Amie then returned to Karyn's house and remained until about 11:00 p.m., when a high school classmate who had been at the Firehouse dinner drove her home.

On Monday, November 22, 1982, Amie woke early but did not go to school because of menstrual cramps. Amie and her mother spent most of the day talking and that evening they visited the Weavers, close family friends.

The next day, November 23, 1982, Amie still felt sick, so she did not go to school at the usual time. Instead, she slept late, and after chatting with her mother, Amie went to school and had lunch with her friend Karyn Speak, who had suffered only minor injury at the Firehouse dinner. Amie then accompanied Karyn Speak to a dentist's appointment in Denville. The girls returned to school at 2:30 p.m. because cheerleading practice was scheduled for that afternoon. Practice ended about 4:45 p.m. Karen Ersek, whose locker was next to Amie's, noticed that Amie was wearing purple underwear, a brownish-purple sweater, a plaid skirt, and cowboy boots. Amie dressed quickly and left at about 5:05 p.m. for her part-time job at the Surprise Store for women (there was also a Surprise Store for men) at the Morris County Mall.

According to Christene Gonzalez, who worked at the companion Surprise Store for men, Amie arrived at work shortly after 5:00 p.m. Amie took a dinner break "[a]fter 8:00, not later than 8:30" p.m.; she went to McDonald's, ordering a Coke, french fries, and Chicken McNuggets. Barbara Horwath, an employee of the neighboring Kodak Jewelers, who regularly used the Surprise Store's restroom, saw Amie eating the fries at 8:15 p.m.

Christene saw Amie again at 9:20 p.m. when Christene helped Amie close the women's store and Amie returned the favor at the men's store. Although Christene needed a ride home that evening, Amie did not offer her a ride because her mother was going to give her a permanent that night. The girls left the mall at about 9:35 p.m. with Amie carrying a knapsack bookbag. At the mall exit, Christene said goodnight to Amie and turned right while Amie turned straight back through the emptying parking lot to her car.

Barbara Horwath left the Kodak Jewelers a few minutes earlier than Amie had left the Surprise Store. Like Amie, she walked out of the main exit straight to the back lot; she walked with three other employees, gradually splitting up until she remained with one colleague, Debby McLain. They stopped to chat for five minutes. While they were talking, Barbara noticed in front of them a greenish blue vehicle, with a vinyl roof and what she described as putty marks on the driver's side. The driver's side window was down four inches, and she could see the driver in profile. His eyes were "dark," his hair curly and "light, light colored blond, curly hair," and his nose was "pointy." At one point, the driver turned toward them. Barbara could see dark markings on the sides of his nose and under his eyes. His nose was "prominent," his hair was shoulder-length, and she saw "gold around the collar."

Barbara said goodnight to Debby McLain, then walked past the car she had observed; she saw six rear lights, three on each side, and identified the car as a Chevy similar to her sister's Chevy BelAir. She got into her car and drove down toward the Mall. As she left, she saw Amie walking "up the parking lot" toward her car.

Amie's mother expected her home at about 9:45 p.m. for her permanent. When Amie had not arrived nor called, as she generally did whenever she was going to be late, Mrs. Hoffman drove to the Mall to search for her. She arrived at the Mall at 10:30 p.m. and found Amie's car sitting alone in the parking lot. The keys were in the ignition and Amie's jacket and pocketbook, with her wallet in it, were in the car. She called the police. Patrolman William Plate, a Hanover Township canine handler, responded to the Mall with his dog, Barron, to investigate a report of a missing person. Once at the mall, Plate met Mrs. Hoffman at Amie's car and attempted to get a track with Barron. After scenting, Barron tracked about two parking spaces from Amie's car but then stopped. Plate interpreted Barron's behavior as indicating that the scent ended there.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1982, the police found Amie's body in the center holding tank in the area known as "Old Mendham Water Works," located in Randolph Township. The holding tanks are made of cement and are in a very isolated area surrounded on three sides by woods. Combs Hollow Road is located about 100 yards to the west of the holding tanks with a dirt road actually leading to the tanks. A bridge separates Combs Hollow Road and the dirt road.

When discovered in the center holding tank, Amie was wearing the same panties, sweater, skirt, and cowboy boots she had worn two days earlier when she was last seen. Cut hair was found around the body as well as on the ground outside the tank. There were blood stains on the sides of the tank. Amie's ring was found on the ground near the center tank and her wristwatch was found in the holding tank. A kidney-shaped pool of blood eighteen inches long and nine inches wide was found on the sandy ground near the tank. A trail of blood led from the kidney-shaped pool to the wall of the holding tank to the right hand corner of the center tank. The police removed Amie's body from the water.

Dr. Frederick L. Roddy, First Assistant Medical Examiner of Morris County, performed the autopsy. Dr. Roddy found a long open gash on the left side of the victim's head, an L-shaped wound to the victim's right shoulder, and "short injuries" at the base of the victim's neck. The victim's left ear had been severed, leaving a deep wound that, in Dr. Roddy's view, would not have caused death but would have prevented the victim from holding her head straight; this wound extended through all of the victim's soft tissue to the spinal column. There was a short laceration at the base of the victim's nose, and two severe chest wounds, one penetrating four and a half inches, the other penetrating more than seven inches, through the victim's lungs and to her back between the ninth and tenth ribs. Dr. Roddy concluded from the structure of these wounds that they were caused by a single-edged knife held perpendicular to the victim's chest; he hypothesized that the knife was inserted, causing the four and a half inch wound, then partially withdrawn, then thrust in deeply, causing the seven inch wound. The victim had defensive wounds on her right hand, as though she had attempted to grasp the blade of the knife. There were also abrasions and bruises on the victim's left thigh and lower left arm, consistent with her having been dragged over the retention tank wall.

Dr. Roddy's internal examination revealed that the victim "had apparently eaten a short time prior to her death. In the stomach we found fragments of white meat from chicken. There was a portion of what appeared to be french fries and also a piece of what appeared to be a roll." Based on this evidence, Dr. Roddy...

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