On August 18, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Hudson County case of State v. Wilbert Hannah. The principal issue concerned whether the accused was denied a fair trial because critical evidence was withheld from the jury that supported his third-party-guilt defense.
Justice Albin wrote for a 4-3 majority in relevant part: The Court considers Hannah has presented two alternative grounds for post-conviction relief to the Court — either the evidence in question was newly discovered and would have altered the outcome of his trial, or his counsel had the critical evidence in his file and was derelict in not using it, rendering him constitutionally ineffective.
In August 1993, Hannah and co-defendant William LaCue were indicted for murder and other offenses. The State presented testimony that shortly after midnight on June 7, 1993, Jersey City police officers responded to a report of gunshots and found the lifeless bodies of Angel Salazar and Luis Flores in a parked car. In the driver’s seat lay Salazar with a gunshot wound to his left temple. Directly behind him in the back seat lay Flores with three gunshot wounds to the right side of his face and a fourth to his right shoulder. The central pillar of the State’s case was the testimony of LaCue. As part of a cooperation agreement with the State, LaCue gave three recorded statements to the police. In the first two, he told the police that he alone killed Salazar and Flores. In his third statement and again later in his trial testimony, LaCue stated that Hannah, who was also known by the name of Rabb, shot Salazar from the front passenger seat.
This recitation of the facts indicates that the prosecution had an uphill battle to overcome with regard to the glaring inconsistency in the co-operating co-defendant’s statement. He twice sat down with law enforcement to give information with regard to a murder case and omitted the identity of a second shooter. A prosecutor might wish to rehabilitate this testimony by eliciting testimony about how close the cooperator was with the alleged second shooter. The State could thereby establish guilt by association.