Defendant, a married man, was engaged in a three-year romantic relationship with Jennifer Pammer. By all accounts, the affair was tumultuous. The couple fought and Pammer called defendant’s house at all hours of the day and night. Not surprisingly, defendant’s wife, Debra, learned of the relationship, and the women confronted each other on several occasions. On one occasion, Pammer sprayed mace at defendant’s wife; on another occasion, Debra threw eggs at Pammer. Still, the affair persisted, as did the acrimony between the two women. In fact, as late as September 2000, Debra had Pammer ejected from the hospital where defendant was hospitalized when she found Pammer leaning over her husband’s bed.
On December 5, 2000, Pammer did not report for work. Barbara Appelt last saw Pammer at 10:40 p.m. on December 4 when she drove Pammer home after a late dinner at a local diner. Repeated calls to Pammer’s cellphone from Allison McCullough, a co-worker, and Appelt went unanswered. Appelt drove to Pammer’s apartment but found nothing disturbed and Pammer’s car gone. Appelt asked a mutual friend to drive to a near-by “Wal-Mart” parking lot because that was a frequent meeting place for Pammer and defendant. Pammer’s car was parked in the lot; her handbag and cellphone were gone.
At that time, Appelt called the police. At about 1:30 p.m., she received a telephone call from Pammer’s cellphone. A raspy-voiced male said, “she’s gone,” and hung up.
Sometime after 1 a.m. on December 5, defendant arrived home visibly upset and frantic. His wife testified that he was saying, “She’s dead. I couldn’t take it anymore. She’s dead.” Defendant showed his wife a silver knife that he said Pammer had used to attack him. He also told his wife that he slammed Pammer’s head against the trunk of the car. After he ascertained that Pammer was not breathing, he stuck her in the trunk of her car.
Debra urged her husband to go to the police and tell them what he had done and why he had done it. She suggested that he bring a file she had compiled about Pammer’s conduct. Eventually, at 4:30 a.m., defendant went to Dover Township police headquarters and spoke to an officer.
Officer Paul Burkhardt testified that defendant reported an incident that had taken place earlier between himself and Pammer. Defendant related that he arrived at “K-Mart” at approximately 10 p.m. on December 4 and that Pammer pulled alongside of him and began to argue. He stated that Pammer threatened to kill him and his family. She pulled a knife but defendant managed to disarm her. She then grabbed for the knife that he usually kept in his waistband. Defendant turned over the knife he took from Pammer to the police.
In this first interview with the police, he denied any romantic relationship with Pammer. He characterized her as a stalker who had been harassing his family for years. Defendant also told police that he had just received a call from Pammer and that she had threatened to commit suicide.
By the afternoon, the police were investigating the report of Pammer’s disappearance. Several officers arrived at defendant’s residence during the afternoon of December 5. Defendant showed one officer the caller identification on his home telephone that indicated that calls from Pammer’s cellphone had been received throughout the day. While the officer was there, the phone rang. Defendant answered the phone and told the officer that it was Pammer. Later investigation revealed that it was a wrong number.
Debra was also questioned. She denied that there was a romantic relationship between defendant and Pammer and showed police the file she had compiled documenting Pammer’s harassment of the family. She also told the police that her husband left the house the previous evening shortly after 9:30 p.m. to play cards with friends and returned home about 11:30 p.m.
Debra later changed her story, allegedly after she was presented with irrefutable proof that her husband and Pammer were lovers. According to her revised version, defendant returned to the house at 1 a.m. very upset. She stated that he confessed to her that he had killed Pammer. At trial she also testified that defendant called her at 3 a.m. to tell her that Pammer was alive and had gotten out of the trunk of the car.
Several telephone calls from Pammer’s cellphone were received at defendant’s house in the early afternoon of December 5. The last call from the cellphone was received at 2:07 p.m. Defendant told police that Pammer had called him for several days after December 5. Investigation revealed that these calls had been placed from a telephone at a 7-11 near defendant’s home, but defendant did not appear on the surveillance tapes of the store. He was seen, however, in a strip mall on December 19. One of the telephone calls received at defendant’s house was traced to a phone booth at that mall.
On May 17, 2001, Pammer’s body was found. Timothy Ritchie and his girlfriend were fishing in Bamber Lake. Ritchie noticed a flock of turkey buzzards circling. He walked in the direction of the birds and found the decomposed body of Jennifer Pammer. A knife was found under the body. One french fry was found in the area where the stomach would have been.
The medical examiner testified that Pammer had been killed approximately one to three hours after eating. She identified six stab wounds on the body: two to the legs, two to the chest, and two to the sides. The defense pathologist opined that the cause of death could not be definitively determined due to decomposition. He found no evidence of stab wounds but agreed that the death was a homicide.
Forensic evidence introduced at trial included DNA analysis of a blood spot from the trunk of defendant’s car. The analysis revealed that there was a one in 7.9 billion chance that the blood belonged to someone other than Pammer. A glove containing blood from a male was also found in the car. In addition, the knife found under the body matched the description of the knife defendant said Pammer had taken from him.
The State also offered the testimony of three inmates of the Ocean County jail. Raymond Hardy testified that defendant confessed to him that he had killed Pammer and threw her belongings into Bamber Lake. Dominick Leyda testified that defendant confessed to him that he had killed Pammer. Richard Ludlow testified that defendant told him that Pammer and he got into an argument and he stabbed her. Ludlow also stated that defendant told him that he would try to implicate his wife in the murder.
In his defense, defendant presented three family members who testified that Debra knew of the affair. They stated that she had threatened to kill Pammer.