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The mere claim that prejudice attaches to a consolidated trial of multiple charges is insufficient to justify a severance. More than a cavil allegation of prejudice must be offered to warrant an order for separate trials of properly joined offenses.
Defendant Robert Reldan was charged with the murders of Susan Heynes and Susan Reeves in separate counts of a single indictment. The Medical Examiner examined the two bodies and found that the cause of death in both cases was strangulation due to a ligature of pantyhose found around the necks of the victims. The State maintained that the joinder of the two murders was proper under R. 3:7-6 which permitted the specification of two or more offenses in the same indictment if the offenses charged were of the same or similar character. The defendant contended that the joinder was prejudicial and sought separate trials on each count under R. 3:15-2(b).
Was the joinder of two murders prejudicial to the defendant, thereby warranting the separate trials on each count?
The court denied defendant's motion to sever the two offenses of first-degree murder in a single indictment to be tried in separate trials because one trial would not be prejudicial to defendant, but would maintain judicial economy. The court concluded that even if the defendant took the stand to testify as to one count of murder, that fact alone was not dispositive of a motion to sever so as to divest a court of all control over the matter. The court rejected defendant's argument that a joint trial would result in the jury using evidence of one of the crimes to infer a criminal disposition on the part of defendant to commit the other crime because the facts demonstrated sufficient similarity in the details of both murders to permit evidence of one murder to be introduced into evidence to show identity of the other. The court based this conclusion on the fact that the manner of the two murders and of the disposal of the victims was so unusual and distinctive as to mark the crime as having been committed by a single individual. The court concluded this evidence was sufficiently probative to justify its admission, and outweighed any prejudice to defendant.