State v. Perry

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Citation590 A.2d 624,124 N.J. 128
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Arthur PERRY, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date20 May 1991

Katherine F. Graham, Designated Counsel, and Mark H. Friedman, Asst. Deputy Public Defender, for defendant-appellant (Wilfredo Caraballo, Public Defender, attorney; Mark H. Friedman, Katherine F. Graham, and Patricia Anne Kern, Designated Counsel, of counsel and on the briefs).

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

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


On Thursday, February 27, 1986, Arthur Perry went to a second-floor bedroom of an apparently abandoned house at 762 Division Street in Camden, New Jersey, to inject himself with heroin. Jerome Redd, a fourteen-year-old acquaintance of Perry who often supplied Perry with drugs, entered that room before Perry could inject himself with the drugs. The ensuing encounter led to the death of Jerome Redd.

A jury convicted defendant, Arthur Perry, of the murder of Jerome Redd and sentenced him to death. He appeals directly to this Court as a matter of right. R. 2:2-1(a)(3). We affirm defendant's conviction of knowing murder and related offenses.

Because we find that there was insufficient proof to have submitted to the jury the aggravating factor described in N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3c(4)(c) ("c(4)(c)"), we reverse the imposition of the death penalty. For the same reason, no court may again impose the death penalty on defendant. Consequently, we remand the matter to the Law Division for the imposition of a life sentence with a thirty-year-parole-ineligibility term, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3b.


On March 4, 1986, Perry confessed to killing Redd following a brief dispute over drugs, money, and a possible distribution/commission arrangement between Perry and Redd. The confession followed a week-long investigation by the Camden City Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

A. The Initial Discovery of Jerome Redd's Body at 762 Division Street

On Sunday, March 2, 1986, Arthur Perry and Clark Miller, his estranged homosexual partner, called the Camden Police to report that they had found a dead body in the basement of a home owned by Perry located at 762 Division Street, Camden. When, in response to the call, Detective Beverly arrived several minutes after 1 p.m., Miller and Perry told Beverly that they had found a body in the right rear corner of the basement. They then showed Beverly the door to the basement.

Beverly went into the basement carrying his service flashlight. In the relative darkness, Beverly "couldn't see anything," despite his flashlight. What he could see appeared to be rags. Beverly then left the basement without determining that a body was actually present.

After obtaining a stronger flashlight Beverly returned to the basement where he found a dead, young black male of medium complexion with an electrical cord rapped "choker-style" around his neck. The body was in a semi-sitting position, covered by a blanket, and partially hidden by a detached screen door. After replacing the blanket, which he had partially removed from the victim during his initial inspection, Beverly returned to the front of the house and notified the appropriate members of the police force and the prosecutor's office. After ordering Patrolman Vernon Curtis to keep the area secure, Beverly took Miller and Perry to the police administration building for interviewing.

B. The Subsequent Investigation of the Basement of 762 Division Street

Meanwhile, the "appropriate members" of the police department and the prosecutor's office, Inspector Craig Milbury and Crime Scene Technician Paul Scully, responded to the crime scene and went directly to the basement, where Scully began to photograph the scene, collect physical evidence and sketch a diagram of the scene.

Because the presence of the electrical cord around the victim's neck suggested that the victim had been hanged, Milbury's investigation focused on evidence to support that cause of death. He found none.

Investigator James Doyle of the Camden County Medical Examiners Office then arrived. Following his check-list report form, he inspected the body. He noted rigor mortis in the jaw, arms and legs and livor mortis in the back.

Dr. Sunandan Singh, an assistant medical examiner for Camden County, conducted an autopsy, which indicated asphyxia by manual strangulation as the cause of death. He also ruled out death by hanging because the broken hyoid bone and ligature marks that lacked an upward turn contra-indicated such a conclusion. Although this confirmed an earlier, independent conclusion by Inspector Milbury, it still left unexplained the electrical cord wrapped around Redd's neck. Dr. Singh noticed another oddity: the victim had unusually well-arched eyebrows as if shaved or plucked. He also had pink make-up around his eyes.

C. Subsequent Investigation of Other Areas In and Around 762 Division Street

After transporting Perry and Miller to the police station, Detective Beverly canvassed the neighborhood around Division Street with a polaroid photo of the victim in an unsuccessful effort to find someone who could identify the victim.

Inspector Milbury surveyed the rest of the house. He found the first floor empty, except for an unplugged refrigerator. The second floor had two sparsely furnished bedrooms. One of the rooms had "a lived-in or transient appearance" and contained blue glassine bags with a white powdery residue, plus drug paraphernalia, including a burnt spoon, two syringes, and two pumps. Milbury also discovered forms and insurance paperwork bearing the name Clark Miller and the address 1189 Landsdowne Avenue, Camden.

D. Statements by Arthur Perry Concerning the Police Investigation

Between March 2, 1986, when authorities were first notified of the discovery of the victim's body, and March 4, 1986, when Perry confessed to killing Jerome Redd, police officers or members of the prosecutor's office interviewed Perry four times. Although defendant was notified repeatedly of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel, he volunteered his assistance each time, seeking to resolve that matter as quickly as possible. Because inconsistencies developed between his statements and those of Miller as well as among his own statements, authorities interviewed Miller and Perry separately and sought additional evidence further to corroborate or discredit the story of either one.

1. The Initial Interview at 762 Division Street

After Detective Beverly had transported Perry and Miller to the police administration building, Inspector Milbury, who had taken charge of the investigation, decided to question Miller and Perry at the scene. The two were returned for that purpose.

Perry told Inspector Milbury that he owned the house and that he and Miller had discovered the body while making one of their periodic checks for vandalism. He stated that they had arrived Sunday March 2nd, at around 1:00 p.m. and had noticed the front door ajar. When they entered the house, they discovered that the basement door had been nailed shut. Perry said that they pried open the door and went into the basement, where they discovered that a screen door had been moved and seemed to cover "something stashed." Because of the dim lighting in the basement, Perry reached out and felt a human knee. Miller then lit his cigarette lighter to provide illumination and confirmed that there was a body. Milbury asked Perry and Miller if they knew the identity of the victim. Each said he did not.

2. The Later Interview at the Police Administration Building

After the initial interview at 762 Division Street, Perry and Miller were taken back to the Administration Building for separate interviews by Inspector Milbury, during which previously unknown facts and further inconsistencies came to light. When informed of the inconsistencies, each volunteered to take a polygraph test.

Before Perry could be given the test, he terminated the interview, promising instead to return the next day to submit to the polygraph. He stated that he wished to confer with counsel.

3. The March 3rd Interview

When Perry returned to the Administration Building on Monday, March 3rd, he stated that he wanted to proceed with the polygraph test. He had not communicated with his attorney. During the pre-test interview Perry revealed that he and Miller had a homosexual relationship and that he knew the victim, Jerome Redd. This conflicted with his earlier statements to Milbury. Perry also stated that the house at 762 Division had been purchased for one dollar as a "shooting gallery," i.e., a place for drug users to inject or "shoot up" drugs. Perry repeated his story about checking for vandalism. He added that he had also gone into the house on Sunday, March 2nd, to inject drugs. According to Perry, Miller waited outside, entering only when Perry called him in to investigate the boarded-up door.

His suspicions aroused because of Perry's appearance and behavior, the polygrapher asked Perry if he had taken drugs. On receiving an affirmative response, he terminated the test, which was then scheduled for the following day. Perry left, accompanied by Miller.

Thereafter, Milbury interviewed Robert Morton, a local high-school teacher who lived on Division Street, and two of his pupils, Todd Lewis and Troy Hunt, both also Division Street residents. The teacher stated that he knew the victim, Jerome Redd, to be a drug dealer who frequented the shooting gallery at 762 Division Street. He also mentioned that he had information that on occasion Perry allowed Redd to borrow a maroon Buick in exchange for drugs. The vehicle was later identified as Miller's car. The two boys stated that they had been in the Division Street building with Perry on Friday, February 28th, and that they had...

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