State v. Martini

Decision Date09 February 1993
Citation131 N.J. 176,619 A.2d 1208
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. John MARTINI, Sr., Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Mark H. Friedman and William B. Smith, Asst. Deputy Public Defenders, for defendant-appellant (Wilfredo Caraballo, Public Defender, attorney).

Craig V. Zwillman, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (Robert J. Del Tufo, Atty. Gen., attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


In December 1990, a jury convicted defendant, John Martini, Sr., of the capital murder of Irving Flax committed in the

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course of a kidnapping. Following a penalty-phase proceeding on the capital-murder conviction, the court sentenced defendant to death. He appeals directly to this Court as of right. See Rule 2:2-1(a)(3). We affirm defendant's conviction for murder and his sentence of death.


On May 9, 1989, defendant was indicted for purposeful or knowing murder by his own conduct, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) and (2) (count one); felony murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3) (count two); possession of a handgun with intent to use it unlawfully against another, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (count three); kidnapping, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1a (count four); and possession of a handgun without a permit, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (count five).

Subsequently, the State served notice of its intent to prove two aggravating factors: that the murder of Irving Flax had been committed for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, punishment, or confinement for the crime of kidnapping committed by the defendant, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(f), and that the murder of Irving Flax had been committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit the crime of kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(g).

The jury found Martini guilty on all counts and sentenced him to death. Martini did not dispute that he had kidnapped and murdered Irving Flax, but he asserted that his severe and continuing drug-abuse problem had vitiated his capacity purposely and knowingly to commit the crimes of which he was accused. Martini's oral and signed statements confessing to the crimes were virtually uncontested at trial, and were the primary source of most of the State's evidence. The following is an account of the essentially-undisputed facts surrounding this case.

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A. Events preceding the murder, the crimes and the investigation

In November 1988, defendant, a former long-time resident of New Jersey, travelled to New York City from Arizona with twenty-nine-year old Therese Afdahl, with whom he had been romantically involved for the previous ten years. In 1989, Martini, fifty-eight, had divorced his wife of thirty-nine years because of his relationship with Afdahl. A few days after his arrival, defendant and Afdahl met with Victor Picardi, a friend of defendant, and Picardi's wife, Joyce, in their Bronxville, New York home. Defendant asked to borrow Victor Picardi's credit card, claiming that he had lost his wallet. Picardi complied.

Shortly thereafter, defendant and Afdahl moved to New Jersey, where they stayed in various hotels, including the Days Inn in Fort Lee, before renting an apartment in Fairview under the names Victor and Joyce Picardi. On December 12, 1988, and January 9, 1989, defendant, using the name Victor Picardi, visited the office of Dr. Anthony P. Nicosia in Cliffside Park for treatment of anxiety, nervousness, gastritis, and a runny nose. During that visit, Dr. Nicosia did not observe any indication of drug use by defendant.

After moving to New Jersey, defendant communicated with a long-time friend, John Doorhy. Doorhy, who lived in Westwood, agreed to meet defendant at the Forum Diner in Paramus. During their meeting, defendant told Doorhy that he was short of funds, and asked if he knew of a way to make some money quickly. Doorhy gave defendant a $6,000 loan and then suggested that defendant kidnap Irving Flax, a Fair Lawn businessman, with whom defendant had been acquainted for some thirty years. Doorhy informed defendant that while working recently at the Flax home, he had noticed a large amount of cash as well as several bankbooks, one of which showed a balance of at least $100,000. Doorhy also told defendant the morning schedules of the Flax family, informing him

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that Irving Flax usually left for work between 9:30 and 10:00 each morning.

Defendant agreed to give Doorhy a percentage of the proceeds of the kidnapping. In return, Doorhy drove defendant to the Flax residence and provided him with written directions to return there. Afterwards, the two men returned to Doorhy's house where Doorhy gave defendant a .32 caliber revolver that defendant had purchased in Arizona a few years earlier and that Doorhy had been holding for him.

Sometime later, defendant, accompanied by Doorhy, met a third party who had obtained fraudulent New Jersey driver's licenses for defendant and Afdahl in return for $1,000. On another date, defendant purchased an additional .32 caliber revolver in Jersey City for $100.

On the morning of January 23, 1989, defendant and Afdahl drove defendant's blue Buick to a location near the Flax residence from which he would have an unobstructed view of anyone leaving the premises. At approximately 9:30, Flax left the house and approached his car. Afdahl drove the Buick to the front of the house, where defendant alighted from his car and approached Flax's vehicle. Defendant called Flax by a nickname he had known him to use during their earlier acquaintance. Defendant asked Flax if he recognized him. When Flax showed some recognition of defendant, Martini suggested that the two go to a diner in Flax's car for a cup of coffee. Flax agreed.

As Flax began to drive, defendant pulled out the revolver he had recently purchased and pointed it at Flax. Defendant informed him of the kidnapping and directed Flax to drive to the Garden State Plaza parking lot adjacent to Route 17 in Paramus. Afdahl followed behind in defendant's car. Once parked, Flax was ordered to get into defendant's vehicle, which had been parked next to Flax's automobile. Defendant then drove Flax and Afdahl to the Fairview apartment.

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At approximately 10:00 a.m. Flax was instructed to call his wife, Marilyn. Mrs. Flax had stayed home from work that day in order to take care of her youngest son, who was sick. Mrs. Flax sensed that something was wrong with her husband despite his protestations to the contrary. During the conversation, Irving Flax told his wife that he needed her to stay home and that he would call again in fifteen or twenty minutes. After that call defendant took Flax into a bedroom and bound his ankles with tape and his wrists with both tape and an extension cord.

Thirty minutes later, defendant telephoned Mrs. Flax and told her "I have your husband * * *. [I]f you want to see him alive, I want $100,000." Defendant ordered Marilyn Flax not to communicate with the police, and told her that if she called the police, both she and her husband would be dead. Some fifteen minutes later, Irving Flax again telephoned his wife and told her not to call police and to "give them this money."

Mrs. Flax telephoned the Fair Lawn police to report the kidnapping. Taps were placed on two of her telephones at about 1 p.m. Before the taps were installed, however, defendant again telephoned Mrs. Flax, this time from a pay phone. After identifying himself as "Tony," defendant asked if Mrs. Flax had obtained the ransom money. In reply to Marilyn Flax's statement that she could not raise that much cash, defendant asked her if she could get $25,000. She responded that she would try. He told her he would call back at 6:00 p.m. to see if she had obtained the money. According to Mrs. Flax's testimony, throughout that conversation "over and over he kept threatening [her] life and [her] husband's" if she did not get the money or if she called the police.

A Special Agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who had been notified by Fair Lawn police, arrived at the Flax residence. Mrs. Flax went to her bank and withdrew $25,000. FBI agents recorded the serial numbers of the $25,000 in

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ransom money. The money was packaged and placed in a brown-paper bag.

At approximately 5:30 p.m., defendant telephoned Mrs. Flax and conducted a ten-minute conversation that was taped by the FBI. After Mrs. Flax told him she had the money, defendant instructed her to drive to the back of the Forum Diner in Paramus where he would meet her at 7:30. He described what clothing he would be wearing and stated that when Mrs. Flax saw him wave both hands in the air, she was to open her car door and leave the money in a paper bag on the ground next to her car. Defendant told Mrs. Flax that her husband would call her by the time that she returned from the diner. During that conversation, Martini also told her that if she or Flax arranged to have him arrested at any time, "someone else will come, maybe in two days, kill the two of ya's [because] I can't take a chance that you're going to do this to me." Shortly after that call, Mrs. Flax received a call from her husband, who "said to me, honey, give * * * them the money, he was screaming and crying."

At about 6:40 p.m., defendant left Afdahl in charge of Flax at the Fairview apartment and drove to the Garden State Plaza. He exchanged his car for Flax's and drove to the arranged meeting point. Equipped with a bullet-proof vest and accompanied by a hidden FBI agent, Mrs. Flax arrived at the diner. Defendant gave the previously-discussed signal; Mrs. Flax dropped the ransom money and returned home.

Defendant picked up the money and left the diner. He was followed by FBI agents who had been conducting an undercover surveillance near the rendezvous point. According to defendant, he stopped...

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