PCR Discovery (Part 1)

by | Aug 2, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On June 23, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Morris County case of State v. Craig Szemple. The principal issue concerned whether the State can be compelled to search its file to determine the existence of information in this post-conviction context, where defendant Craig Szemple seeks to obtain any statements or reports memorializing any interviews with his ex-wife, Theresa Boyle, that may have occurred after a letter admitting to the 1975 murder of Nicholas Mirov, believed to be written by defendant, was produced by Theresa’s father in 1992, during defendant’s first trial for Mirov’s murder.

Justice Solomon wrote for a 4-3 majority of the Court in relevant part: Mirov disappeared in 1975, and defendant told members of Mirov’s family that he had driven Mirov to a bus station so that Mirov could go to New York City. Four months after Mirov disappeared, police discovered a body in the woods. Police did not identify the body until sixteen years later, when defendant’s brother, under questioning about a different homicide, revealed defendant’s prior admission to killing Mirov.

During defendant’s first trial, defendant’s father-in-law, Michael Boyle, provided the State with the letter he claimed to have discovered in April 1991 while helping his daughter move out of the home she had shared with defendant until his arrest for a different murder. The letter reads in part: “My first hit was an act of treachery, the ultimate deceit. 4 bullets in the back 1 in the neck and a broken promise made at the parting of the oncoming river.” Defendant’s first trial ended in a mistrial, and he was re-tried in 1994. The State admitted into evidence the letter, testimony by a handwriting expert that defendant authored the letter, the .32 caliber bullets found lodged in the victim’s neck and the base of the tree where the victim’s remains were found, and the testimony of defendant’s brother that (a) his family kept a .32 caliber handgun in the family store where defendant worked, and (b) that defendant confessed to shooting the victim. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder.

Three of the four majority opinion Justices regularly side with the prosecution (Solomon, Fernandez-Vina, and Patterson). The Court’s newest Justice and my law school classmate at Rutgers, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, has not been on the Court long enough to show a strong tendency. Here, her experience as a former prosecutor may have led her to cast the deciding 4-3 vote.