New Jersey v. Williams

A jury convicted defendant, Bryden Williams, of murder, third-degree possession of a handgun without a carrying permit, and second-degree possession of a handgun with the purpose to use it unlawfully against another. In 2006, Joel Whitley, Omar Boyd, and Boyd's girlfriend attended a party at Dynesha Gibson's apartment. Whitley became intoxicated and involved in an altercation with another party guest, and was asked to leave. A short time later, Whitley realized he had left his cell phone at the party, and he and Boyd went back to retrieve it. Gibson refused to return the phone and Whitley started kicking the apartment's front door. Gibson told Whitley and Boyd that they should leave before defendant arrived. As Whitley and Boyd were leaving, defendant arrived. He exited his car and, armed with a handgun, aimed it at Boyd and asked, "What's the problem?" After Gibson yelled from the window that Whitley had "disrespected" either her or her sister, defendant put the gun to Whitley's head and forced him into an adjacent alley. Defendant then pointed the gun at Whitley's chest and fired once, killing him. At trial, defendant asserted that he acted in self-defense. He claimed that when he arrived at Gibson's apartment, he saw Whitley banging on the apartment's door and told him to get off the porch. As Whitley stepped off of the porch, defendant claimed that Whitley pulled out a gun and pointed it toward him. Defendant claimed that he struggled with Whitley and that as they wrestled, a single shot was fired with the gun still in Whitley's hand. Defendant stated that he never touched the gun's handle and was trying to disarm Whitley when the gun fired. Dr. Zhongxue Hua, the Chief Medical Examiner of Union County and an expert in forensic pathology, testified as to the cause and manner of Whitley's death. Dr. Hua did not perform or assist in the autopsy. The doctor that had performed the autopsy was not called as a witness, and defendant did not object to Dr. Hua's testimony or qualifications. On cross-examination, defense counsel pursued a line of questioning consistent with a theory of self-defense. Based on gunpowder residue discovered on Whitley's clothing, defense counsel elicited from Dr. Hua that the gun was fired several inches away from Whitley. Defense counsel also had Dr. Hua explain that the bullet took a downward path through Whitley's body. In response to defense questioning, Dr. Hua stated that if Whitley had been holding the gun's handle when it discharged, gunpowder residue would have been found on his hand, but that the autopsy report did not indicate whether Whitley's hand was tested for gunpowder residue. Ultimately, the jury rejected self-defense as a justification for the shooting and found defendant guilty of all charges. Defendant appealed, claiming that his right to confrontation had been violated. In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division rejected defendant's claim. The Supreme Court affirmed: defendant's failure to object to the admission of the testimony on confrontation grounds and his decision to cross-examine the medical examiner constituted a waiver of his right of confrontation. View "New Jersey v. Williams" on Justia Law