State v. Moore

Citation122 N.J. 420,585 A.2d 864
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Samuel Leon MOORE, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date23 January 1991
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Jacqueline E. Turner, Asst. Deputy Public Defender, and Matthew Astore, Deputy Public Defender II, for defendant-appellant (Wilfredo Caraballo, Public Defender, attorney)

Nancy A. Hulett, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (Robert J. Del Tufo, Atty. Gen. of New Jersey, attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


This capital case was tried in June of 1987, four months before our decision in State v. Breakiron, 108 N.J. 591, 532 A.2d 199 (1987). The date is crucial because the pivotal question in this case is the application of the diminished-capacity defense established under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-2. In Breakiron we The defense is of particular significance here because defendant's state of mind is really the only issue. The evidence is overwhelming that defendant killed his wife and child. Whether in cold blood, rage or anger, or with callous indifference to the consequences of the brutal blows inflicted on them is undoubtedly all that remains for a jury to decide. Crucial to the jury's determination, in defendant's view, is that he suffered from a mental disease or defect of mind on the occasion of the killing to such an extent that he did not intend to kill or did not know that he was killing his victims. His counsel argues that the State should have had to prove that the killings were knowing and purposeful despite the evidence of his mental disease or defect. This is effectively what federal-constitutional law requires. Humanik v. Beyer, supra, 871 F.2d 432. It is close to the construction that we adopted in State v. Breakiron, supra, 108 N.J. 591, 532 A.2d 199.

ruled that even though the statute imposed a burden of proof on the defendant to establish the diminished-capacity defense, the burden imposed was to show only the existence of the mental disease or defect, not that the disease or defect would negate a criminal mental state. That interpretation, we concluded, would pass constitutional muster because it imposed no burden on the defendant to disprove an essential element of the crime charged. In point of fact, even if this case had been tried after, and in accordance with, Breakiron, it would still contain a federal-constitutional flaw--at least in the view of the Third Circuit. In Humanik v. Beyer, 871 F.2d 432, 443, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 57, 107 L.Ed.2d 25 (1989), the Third Circuit ruled that the Breakiron construction failed to meet federal due-process requirements because imposing any burden of proof on the defendant created a "filter" that impermissibly relieved the State of its obligation to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each and every element of a crime. The State petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review of the Humanik decision, but the Supreme Court denied relief. We administratively advised trial and appellate courts that in order to avoid a constitutional stalemate, we ought to conform the applications of the statute to the Humanik ruling. Having instructed trial and appellate judges to do so, we can do no less here. The Legislature has since amended the diminished-capacity law. L.1990, c. 63 (amending N.J.S.A. 2C:4-2). [585 A.2d 867] Courts will no longer charge that defendants have asserted a statutory affirmative defense. Of course, juries will continue to be required to consider all evidence in a case, including any evidence of mental disease or defect proffered by a defendant, relevant to the state of mind that the State must prove. In addition, proposed legislation, passed in the State Assembly and now awaiting action in the State Senate, would require consideration of commitment for any defendant who is relieved of criminal culpability by virtue of a diminished-capacity defense. A. 760, 204th Leg., 1st Sess. (1990).

Not having the benefit of the later-announced decisions, the instructions to the jury here required, in violation of Breakiron/Humanik, that defendant prove that the mental disease or defect negated his knowledge or purpose to kill. The error in the charge is conceded. It is the fault of no one. The language of the statute was followed. The only question is whether the error is harmless. For the reasons to be set forth in detail in the opinion, we cannot find in the circumstances of this case that the constitutional error committed on so fundamental an issue in a murder trial of this type was harmless. Because this ruling requires reversal of the guilt phase of this capital-murder trial, it renders moot most of the other issues. As we have done in other cases, we shall discuss in detail only issues that are likely to recur in the retrial of this case and that are not clearly resolved by our other capital cases.


The case involves a particularly shocking hammer killing of a young wife and her eighteen-month-old child as the denouement The murder took place on Sunday evening, June 29, 1986, at the couple's apartment at 207 South Harrison Street, East Orange, New Jersey, following a family outing that ended in an argument and the death of the wife and child at the hands of the husband and father.

of a marital breakup. For purposes of this appeal we shall accept without necessarily endorsing in specific terms the general recital of the events set forth in the State's brief.

At first a seemingly happy union, the marriage began to deteriorate in early 1986. The wife, Melva, complained of defendant's hours outside the home at work (he held a managerial position in an airline catering service at Newark Airport), while the husband complained of the wife's housekeeping. Despite the fact that she had become pregnant in early 1986, Melva told a friend in the spring of 1986 that she was thinking of leaving the defendant. Although he complained of his wife, defendant told a friend that he would not leave his home.

The situation worsened when Melva learned that defendant was having an affair with a co-worker, to whom we shall refer by her first name, Lizzette. Defendant and Lizzette planned to set up housekeeping together. It appears that defendant wanted Melva out of the family apartment so that he and Lizzette could occupy it. The plan was that Lizzette would move into defendant's apartment on Sunday, June 29, 1986.

That was the last day that any member of his family would occupy that apartment. That Sunday, Melva and Kory, her eighteen-month-old son, had not moved out. Defendant spent the day with Melva and Kory at a park. When they arrived home at about 9:00 p.m., defendant and Melva started arguing. The argument became a fight, an exchange of recriminations and hate-filled words. Defendant picked up a hammer and struck Melva repeatedly with it. According to the forensic pathologist, defendant struck more than twenty blows to her skull, spattering blood and brain throughout the apartment. In the course of killing Melva, defendant killed Kory. He claims About this time a telephone in the apartment rang. It was Ennis White, a friend of Melva. When Ennis asked for Melva, defendant said he did not know where she was. Defendant then put his bloodstained shirt and shorts into a paper bag and wiped the blood off himself.

that it was an accident. Kory's body was found on the hallway floor about three feet to the right of his mother, whose body was lying in the bathroom doorway. Blood from the mother was found on the child's overalls. By approximately 9:30 p.m. both were dead.

He then went to pick up Lizzette, who was planning to move into the South Harrison Street apartment. Defendant told her that he had to stop off at work. When they arrived at work, he took the paper bag with his clothes out of the trunk and hid them in the building. He told Lizzette that it would be better if they spent the night at a motel. After moving her into a motel, he drove back to his place of work, retrieved the bag of clothes, including the towel, and threw it into a barrel in an abandoned building. He also threw the hammer onto the roof of the abandoned building. After eating, defendant returned to the motel and remained overnight with Lizzette.

On the following morning, Monday, June 30, 1986, a worried friend of Melva gained access to the apartment with the help of a superintendent. At 8:15 a.m. the police were at the scene. They found no evidence of forced entry, burglary, or robbery. They found blood on the telephone and a bloody palm print in the bathroom. Defendant arrived at the apartment early Monday morning. He was soon identified as the husband. He told the police that he had been at the Royal Inn motel the night before with his girl friend. Defendant did not tell the police about the 9:30 p.m. phone call. He was taken to the police station where he denied involvement. Following an emotional confrontation with Lizzette, defendant told her that when Melva started yelling at him, he got mad and he beat her with a hammer. When Lizzette asked "why Kory?" (the baby), defendant The jury found defendant guilty of two counts of capital murder and two counts of weapons-related offenses.

broke down and cried. He said that he did not know. He said that he wanted only to be with Lizzette. Defendant then gave the police a written confession admitting the facts outlined above. He contended that Kory had jumped on Melva to "cover her" and in the process Kory was struck by accident. He told the police how he had abandoned his clothes and the murder weapon. The police retrieved these items. The police identified the palm print as that of defendant.

At the sentencing proceeding, the State asserted two aggravating factors on each murder: (1) that the murder was outrageously or wantonly vile in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c) (in Kory's case the State agreed to...

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