Homeless woman sentenced to 80 years for Atlantic City stabbing deaths of Canadian tourists
Case Number: A-0334-16T1
Judge: Ronald Lee Reisner
Court: SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
Plaintiff's Attorney: Damon G. Tyner
Atlantic County Prosecutor
Defendant's Attorney: Joseph E. Krakora
Description: Defendant was charged with stabbing two women to death in
an unprovoked attack, which was captured on video and witnessed
by several bystanders. Defendant pled guilty to two counts of
first-degree murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1)(2), and was sentenced
to an aggregate term of eighty years in prison subject to the No
Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. We affirmed the sentence
on an excessive sentencing calendar, noting the brutality of the
murders and the sentencing judge's cogent statement of reasons.
State v. Pelzer, No. A-4722-13 (App. Div. Dec. 4, 2014), certif.
denied, 221 N.J. 566 (2015).
Defendant filed a pro se PCR petition dated June 15, 2015,1
contending that her guilty plea was not "knowing and intelligent,"
because her trial attorney did not explain to her "the terms and
ramifications" of the State's plea offer or the "elements of the
crimes to which petitioner was to plead guilty." She also
contended that her trial attorney failed to effectively argue that
aggravating factor one, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(a)(1) (the nature and
circumstances of the offense), should not apply. Defendant's PCR
assigned counsel submitted a formal brief contending that
defendant's trial counsel failed to effectively argue - in favor
of mitigating factor eight - that the crimes were the result of
circumstances unlikely to recur, because a prison term of life
with thirty years of parole ineligibility would prevent defendant
from committing future murders. See N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(8).
We agree with the PCR judge that the latter argument, even
if raised by trial counsel, would have been without merit and
would have made no difference to the sentence imposed. As a
result, defendant failed to satisfy both prongs of the test set
forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S. Ct.
2052, 2068, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 698 (1984), and was not entitled
to an evidentiary hearing on that PCR claim. See State v.
Preciose, 129 N.J. 451, 463-64 (1992).
However, the judge did not address defendant's pro se
arguments, perhaps because PCR counsel did not include a reference
to them in his formal brief and did not mention them at oral
argument. PCR counsel had an obligation to bring to the court's
attention defendant's pro se arguments, and the court had an
obligation to consider them. See R. 3:22-6(d); State v. Webster,
187 N.J. 254, 258 (2006); State v. Rue, 175 N.J. 1, 4 (2002).
Outcome: Because this did not occur, we must remand this matter to the PCR
court to consider the arguments raised in defendant's pro se PCR
filing. We do not retain jurisdiction.