State v. Long

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Citation119 N.J. 439,575 A.2d 435
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent and Cross-Appellant, v. Ronald E. LONG, Sr., Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Respondent.
Decision Date21 June 1990

Page 439

119 N.J. 439
575 A.2d 435
STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent and Cross-Appellant,
Ronald E. LONG, Sr., Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Respondent.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Oct. 10, 1989.
Decided June 21, 1990.

[575 A.2d 439]

Page 449

Edward A. Jerejian and Rebecca R. Pressman, Designated Counsel, for defendant-appellant and cross-respondent (Alfred A. Slocum, Public Defender, attorney, Edward A. Jerejian and Rebecca R. Pressman, Orange, of counsel, Rebecca R.

Page 450

Pressman, Sheila H. Mylan, Montclair, and Michael J. Witt, Designated Counsel, Haddonfield, on the briefs).

Robin Parker, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent and cross-appellant (Peter N. Perretti, Jr., Atty. Gen. of New Jersey, attorney).

[575 A.2d 440] Ronald E. Long, Sr. submitted supplemental pro se briefs.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


Defendant has been found guilty of murder in a liquor-store holdup. The pivotal question in his appeal is whether the jury verdict establishes guilt of knowing and purposeful murder, therefore rendering defendant death-eligible. The case was tried before our decision in State v. Gerald, 113 N.J. 40, 549 A.2d 792 (1988). In Gerald, the Court held that the 1979 amendments to the Code of Criminal Justice had created two forms of murder. One is intentional, death being defendant's purpose, the other unintentional, the death occurring as a result of the infliction of serious bodily injuries on the victim, but the death, nevertheless, not intended by defendant.

This latter form of murder was the counterpart of non-capital, second-degree murder under pre-Code law. Under pre-Code law, it was the deliberate, premeditated murder (first-degree murder) that merited death. Rather than incorporate this pre-Code terminology into the present Code, we refer to non-capital murder under the Code as "serious bodily injury murder" (SBI murder). In order to establish death-eligibility, the jury must determine that the defendant had the knowledge or purpose to kill and not the knowledge or purpose merely to inflict serious bodily injury that happened to result in death. Id. at 69, 549 A.2d 792. The Court held that the contrary interpretation, that execution could result from an unintended homicide, would render the statute unconstitutional under New Jersey's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 89, 549 A.2d 792. In order to conform with what we believe

Page 451

to be certain legislative intent and constitutional principle, the jury's verdict must establish that the accused had the knowledge or purpose to kill.

Accordingly, the central question is whether the jury's verdict established that defendant had the knowledge or purpose to kill. Because this question affects most of the trial issues, we shall focus our opinion primarily on it, then address issues not resolved thereby.


The case has a very complex trial record but a very simple factual scenario. On December 11, 1982, a gunman clad in a red baseball jacket, wielding a silver revolver, shot to death Albert Compton, the night manager of the Holiday Liquor Store. There was a single bullet to the chest. There were no witnesses to the killing itself. There was one witness on the street who identified Ronald Long as being in the vicinity of the liquor store around the time of the crime.

Earlier on the same evening, a similarly-clad gunman with a silver pistol had shot Alfred Carmichael at an apartment within walking distance of the Holiday Liquor Store. Several witnesses linked Ronald Long to the first shooting. If the same gun were used in the two crimes, Long would be a prime suspect. Ballistic tests proved that the same type of gun was used in both crimes. There was overwhelming evidence that defendant had access to such a gun, which was owned by his cousin, Harold Long. A major trial issue, then, was whether it was correct to try the Carmichael and liquor-store crimes together. A final wrinkle to the case was that a third holdup and shooting had occurred that same night with a perpetrator using the same type of revolver. The victim of this crime did not identify Ronald Long as the gunman.

The trial was set against this general background. The State alleged that Ronald Long had perpetrated the first two crimes.

Page 452

It gathered scientific and testimonial evidence in support of those contentions.

For purposes of this appeal and without endorsing each recital, we will use the issue-oriented version of facts as set forth in defendant's brief.

575 A.2d 441] A. GUILT PHASE

1. Illegal possession of the handgun

The State alleged that in early December 1982, defendant, Ronald Long, stole a .25 calibre Raven Arms handgun and hollow-nosed bullets from his cousin, Harold Long, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The State contended that this silver gun was used in the Carmichael and Compton shootings. Defendant admitted that he had Harold's gun in his possession in Atlantic City while staying with his brother Larry Long, in early December, but he claimed that he had bought it from Harold on December 2 and sold it for $90 on December 7 or 8, 1982 (three or four days before the shootings), to a Rastafarian friend of Carmichael. Defendant claimed that he wanted the gun for his own safety after having previously been shot.

Harold, however, had reported to the Harrisburg police that the gun had been stolen. He testified that when he saw defendant in late December while visiting defendant's brother, who was in a New Jersey prison, he had demanded that defendant return the gun. When various witnesses led the police to Harold, he gave the police that information along with hollow-nose bullets similar to those he claimed were in the gun at the time defendant took the gun. The defense sought to undermine Harold's credibility by showing that he had given a false alibi for the night of the murder.

Page 453

Defendant did not deny being in Atlantic City, and various witnesses testified that he had the gun in his possession. The question is whether he had it on the night of the shootings.

2. The Carmichael shooting

Carmichael testified that he and defendant were friends who had met through defendant's brother Joseph. Carmichael said that defendant came to his apartment about 6:00 p.m. on December 11, the night of the crimes, asking to borrow money. Carmichael refused. Carmichael then took defendant to Helen Thompson's apartment. While they were at Thompson's apartment, a man named Oliver Johnson stopped by. Johnson and Carmichael returned to Carmichael's apartment, and defendant joined them shortly thereafter. After Johnson left, defendant again asked to borrow money. When Carmichael refused, defendant showed him a handgun and asked him if he wanted to buy it. Carmichael got up to take the trash out. As he was walking down the hall, he was shot in the neck, behind the left ear. The defense contended that Carmichael had been shot by another person, a fact he did not want to disclose to the police. Carmichael gave conflicting stories to the police. He told the examining physician that he had fallen down and struck his head. He repeated that story to the police and said nothing about defendant having shot him. He later said that a man named Jerome Finch had shot and mugged him outside of his apartment between 9:00 and 11:00. He eventually told the detectives that defendant, not Finch, had shot him. Carmichael's credibility was questioned because of his drinking habits and other behavior traits and other witnesses contradicted his testimony.

3. The Johnson identification

A key witness was Oliver Johnson, who told the jury that when he went to Helen Thompson's apartment, he saw a black male whom he had never seen before. Later, in Carmichael's apartment, he noticed a red baseball jacket hanging on a chair.

Page 454

Carmichael told him that the jacket belonged to the other male. When the unknown male returned to Carmichael's apartment, Carmichael introduced him to Johnson as "Joe Long's brother." Johnson claimed that he did not like Joseph Long, so he left. He said he had been at a bus stop about 8:10 p.m. when he saw the "other man" walk past him wearing a red baseball jacket and cap. On Sunday night he went to Carmichael's apartment, where he discovered that Carmichael had been severely injured. Johnson told the police about "the other man with the red baseball jacket and cap at Carmichael's apartment." He did not say that this man had been introduced to him as Joseph Long's brother. It was not until January 6, 1983, after defendant [575 A.2d 442] had become the primary suspect through other witnesses, that the Atlantic City Press ran an article about the shootings and defendant's picture with his name underneath furnished by the police. The article described both shootings, listed the victims, and identified defendant as the suspect

Johnson gave various conflicting statements to the police, but at the time of trial he claimed he was positive that when he saw defendant's picture in the paper, he made the identification in his own mind. The defense sought to attack Johnson's testimony by asserting the unreliability of the police-suggested newspaper photograph, and offered as well to produce the testimony of an expert witness that such a related identification was inherently unreliable. The court refused to permit such expert testimony.

4. The Compton killing

Johnson testified that the man with the red jacket passed him at the bus stop at 8:10 p.m. It was a ten-minute walk from that spot to the Holiday Liquor Store where Albert Compton was shot. Thus, if the man who passed Johnson also shot Compton, the shooting could have occurred no earlier than approximately 8:20 p.m. Another witness, who arrived at the scene and called the police, estimated the time of the murder between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. The police found that Compton had been shot in the

Page 455

chest. A single bullet pierced the

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