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New Trial for Man Convicted of Manslaughter

September 11, 2014 | Posted In Appeals, Criminal Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for Dwayne Slaughter, who was convicted of murder in the 2009 beating death of a 79-year-old man. Slaughter and his co-defendant Pritchard Watts Jr will receive a new trial now that his New Jersey appeal attorneys have determined that the original testimony from the witness was in violation of Slaughter’s rights. 

According to the police reports, Slaughter’s girlfriend at the time, Tanisha Day, stated that she had overheard Slaughter say that he hoped he had not killed someone. She assumed at the time that he had “beaten somebody up,” as she told police. But in the pretrial hearings, Day changed her statement, and said that she did not remember Slaughter saying anything about the murder. 

Despite the defense’s objections, William Forester, the Salem County Superior Court judge presiding over the trial, ruled that Day was lying about her memory loss, and decided to admit her prior statement about overhearing Slaughter into evidence. Judge Forester did not order Day to testify at the trial, and the defense was not able to cross-examine her. Slaughter was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter and other charges, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. An appeals court ruled that Forester’s error was harmless, and upheld the conviction. 

But in State v. Slaughter, Appellate division judge Ariel Rodriguez drew parallels between Slaughter’s case and a prior case State v. Cabbell, in which a witness provided a recorded statement, but then later decided not to testify, and claimed not to remember anything about the case. The court ruled in Cabbell that a jury must be able to hear the testimonies used in the case, and then make their decision. Rodriguez quoted the decision, saying, “A trial court may admit prior inconsistent witness statements so long as ‘the witness feigns a loss of memory on the stand.’”

New Jersey appeal attorneys say that the proper course of action should have been to provide the jury with a chance to hear Day’s testimony, and her claim of forgetting the statement, as part of the trial. Cross-examination is a crucial part of the trial-by-jury process as well, and the defense should have been given a chance to examine Day’s statements and confusion to provide the jury with a fuller sense of the case. 

If you have been accused of a crime in New Jersey, you have the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, at which evidence is presented to defend your innocence or prove your guilt. The jury’s job is to make a determination of guilt or innocence based on the entire scope of the case, and when a judge blocks the jury members from hearing all sides of the story, your criminal conviction could be unlawful, and have grounds for an appeal or even a new trial.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our appeal attorneys represent New Jersey clients who have had their rights violated during the criminal justice process, and are serving unlawful sentences. Contact an HCK appeal attorney today to discuss your options for appeal. 

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