Between August 1974 and November 1975, residents of northern New Jersey were alarmed by a series of random, brutal homicides that claimed the lives of eight young women, perpetrated by a man who liked to pick his victims off in pairs.
He would resort to solitary targets in a pinch, however, and he kept authorities off-balance by continually altering his methods - suffocation, strangulation, gunshots - on a whim.
The first to die were 17-year-old Mary Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Kelly, reported missing from North Bergen on August 10, 1974. The girls were last seen on August 9, when they left Pryor's home to do some shopping, and police believe they were hitchhiking when they met their killer that afternoon.
Their bodies, raped and smothered, were recovered from a wooded area near Montvale, four days later. On December 13, 1974, 14-year-old Doreen Carlucci and 15-year-old Joanne Delardo vanished from a church youth center in Woodbridge, their bodies discovered two weeks later, in Manalapan Township. Beaten and strangled, one victim was completely nude when found, the other dressed only in shoes and a sweater. The killer's garrote, an electrical extension cord, was knotted tight around Carlucci's neck.
The first solitary victim, 26-year-old Susan Reynes, disappeared from her home in Haworth, New Jersey, on October 6, 1975. Eight days later, in Demarest, 22-year-old Susan Reeve vanished without a trace on the short walk home from her bus stop, after work. Both were still missing when 15-year-olds Denise Evans and Carolyn Hedgepeth disappeared from home in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 24, their bodies - shot execution-style - recovered in Salem County, New Jersey, the following day.
On October 27 and 28, the remains of victims Reynes and Reeve were found, seven miles apart, in a wooded region of Rockland County, New York, just north of the New Jersey state line. Searchers were led to one corpse by an arrow, scratched on a highway embankment above the name "Reeve." Autopsies revealed that both women were strangled.
On October 31, 1975, police arrested 35-year-old Robert Reldan in Closter, New Jersey, on a charge of attempted burglary. A resident of Tenafly, Reldan was convicted of raping a woman at Teaneck, in 1967, serving three years in prison before he was paroled.
Five months later, in 1971, he assaulted another woman in a hospital parking lot, pulling a knife on her moments after his latest therapy session. Convicted a second time, he emerged as a "model graduate" of Rahway prison's rehabilitation program for sex offenders. Authorities were so impressed with Reldan's progress that they chose him for a television interview with David Frost, aired shortly before his parole in May 1975. Held without bond on the burglary charge, Reldan was questioned about the murders of Reeve and Reynes, but on November 2, homicide detectives publicly announced that he was "not considered a suspect" in the slayings. They had changed their tune by January 1986, but another full year elapsed before Reldan's indictment on two counts of murder, in January 1977.
Four months later, on April 21, he was charged with plotting to arrange the deaths of a wealthy aunt and her boyfriend, hoping to expedite a hoped-for inheritance. A Bergen County detective, posing as a hit man, twice visited Reldan at Trenton state prison, where he was serving three years on the burglary charge, and their conversations were secretly recorded as
Convicted of conspiracy in June 1978, Reldan drew a term of 20 to 50 years in prison, but the worst was yet to come. Reldan's first murder trial ended with a hung jury, in June 1979, and a retrial was scheduled for October.
On October 15, Reldan used a smuggled key to unlock his handcuffs, sprayed his guards with chemical Mace, and escaped from the courthouse in Hackensack. He was recaptured hours later, at a hospital in Tuxedo, New York, after crashing his stolen getaway car into a ditch.
The trial resumed next day, despite the anonymous mailing of $100 bribes to several jurors, and Reldan was convicted of two murders on October 17. He remains a suspect in six other homicides, although no further charges have been filed.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Murderer, No Escaping His Name
The New York Times
Friday, December 31, 1993
He went to prison as Robert R.
Reldan, and he will stay in prison as Robert R. Reldan. That is what the
New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on Wednesday in the case of a
convicted murderer who tried to change his name to Howard B. (Beyer)
Junior while serving time at the state prison in Trenton.
Mr. Reldan, convicted in 1979 of
murdering two women from Bergen County, N.J., said his choice of a name
had little to do with the fact that the prison's warden, until last June,
was Howard L. Beyer.
But that is not how the court
saw it. "The Attorney General and the Bergen County prosecutor filed
objections to this application," Judge Richard S. Cohen and Judge
William M. D'Annunzio said. "Their objections are based on the fact the
administrator of the prison is one Howard Beyer."
Ed Martone, executive director
of the American Civil Liberties Union's state office in Newark, said, "If
he wanted to change his name to Mickey Mouse, he might have an easier
time of it." Possible Fraudulent Intent
Common law in New Jersey allows
residents to call themselves whatever they choose. They can make the
change official in a legal proceeding after a petition has been filed
and advertised. Changes are rarely challenged, and are denied only if
the challenger proves that there is a fraudulent intent.
In Mr. Reldan's case, officials
were persuaded that the potential for fraud was substantial. He twice
tried to escape custody: In 1979, during his trial in Hackensack, he
bolted from the courthouse, stole a car and was at large for an hour; he
tried again two years later at St. Francis Medical Center, where his
girlfriend waited in the hospital lobby with a sawed-off shotgun in a
The Bergen County prosecutor and
the State Attorney General's office argued that the new name could help
him in "hatching another escape plot."
In its ruling, the appellate
court said that Mr. Beyer "deserves to be protected from the harassment
inherent in an inmate's parody of the prison administrator's name."
Some lawyers said, for example,
that mail to the former warden could be diverted to the prisoner. And a
law professor at Rutgers University, Annamay Sheppard, suggested that
the prisoner's bill for an expensive suit or other items ordered from
prison could, in turn, be directed to Mr. Beyer.
Lawyers could cite no precedent
for a prisoner's being denied a name change. But some suggested that any
new name for a convicted felon could interfere with the criminal justice
For example, if Mr. Reldan is
ever released from prison, he would report for parole as "Mr. Junior,"
even though it was as Robert R. Reldan that he was convicted for his
crimes: the murders of Susan Reeve, 22, of Demarest, N.J., and Susan
Haynes, 28, of Haworth in 1975. A name change might obscure his prior
record, Ms. Sheppard said.
But parole will be a long time
coming: Whatever his name, the man also known as the "Susan Strangler"
will not be eligible for parole until the year 2010.
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: Sex.
MO: Slayer of females age 14-26
DISPOSITION: Life sentence on two
OF NEW JERSEY
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Robert Reldan, Defendant-Appellant.
Submitted November 1, 2004 -
Decided December 7, 2004
Before Judges Petrella,
Parker and Yannotti.
On appeal from Superior Court of
New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. S-63-77.
Yvonne Smith Segars, Public
Defender, attorney for appellant (Shepard Kays, Designated Counsel, on
John L. Molinelli, Bergen County
Prosecutor, attorney for respondent (Catherine A. Foddai, Assistant
Prosecutor, of counsel and on the brief).
The opinion of the court was
delivered by PETRELLA, P.J.A.D.
Defendant Robert Reldan appeals
from the denial of his motion requesting DNA testing of hair samples
produced at his trial for the murder of two women in Bergen County.
Reldan was indicted on January 20, 1979, and charged with the two
murders. A first jury trial ended in a mistrial. The jury in the second
trial found Reldan guilty of both murders, but this conviction was
reversed due to errors in the admission of other crimes evidence, and
remanded for a new trial. See State v. Reldan, 185 N.J.
Super. 494 (App. Div. 1982), certif. denied, 91 N.J. 543 (1982).
After a suppression order was reversed in State v. Reldan, 100
N.J. 187 (1985), a third trial commenced on January 27, 1986, in which
Reldan represented himself. He was again convicted of both murders and
his convictions were affirmed in State v. Reldan, A-4588-85,
decided May 15, 1989, certif. denied, 121 N.J. 598 (1990).
On March 9, 2001, Reldan filed a
motion with supporting certification requesting DNA testing of hair
samples produced at trial. After a hearing, the motion was denied by
Judge Venezia on November 18, 2002.
On appeal, Reldan argues:
I. The court was incorrect in
determining that even if DNA testing showed that the hair samples were
not that of the victims, it would not have changed the verdict as the
evidence at trial had been overwhelming.
II. The defendant's
constitutional rights were violated, as it was fundamentally unfair for
the court to deny his motion for DNA testing of relevant and exculpatory
evidence that would potentially alter the result of his trial.
Reldan was charged with the
murders of S.H. (count one) and S.R. (count two), which occurred on
October 6, 1975, and October 14, 1975, respectively. The facts involving
these murders and the procedural background are fully detailed in
Reldan, supra ( 185 N.J. Super. 494), and our unpublished
opinion in docket number A-4588-85, as well as in the Supreme Court's
opinion upholding the reversal of an order suppressing the results of a
vacuum sweep of Reldan's car's interior. See State v. Reldan,
supra ( 100 N.J. 187). We need not further detail the procedural
history and background facts here.
Reldan was convicted of second
degree murder on count one and first degree murder on count two. He was
sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment for the first degree
murder of S.R., to be served consecutively to sentences already imposed,
and a consecutive thirty-year term of imprisonment for the second degree
murder of S.H.
In March 2001, Reldan filed a
motion to compel DNA testing on the hair samples found in his car. At
the hearing of the motion on November 12, 2002, Reldan argued that he
was entitled to obtain DNA testing of the hair samples in order to
obtain a new trial. Reldan also argued that the State should not be
allowed to argue based on evidence not admitted at the trial and that
N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32a, which the judge looked to for guidance,
See footnote 1
is fundamentally unfair because it
permits the court to consider evidence not admitted at trial to decide
the motion. Judge Venezia concluded that it would be proper to consider
certain evidence not admitted at trial. Additionally, he denied Reldan's
motion, concluding that the evidence at trial in 1986, which included
microscopic examination of materials obtained in the vacuuming of his
automobile, see 100 N.J. at 195, was overwhelming and the
DNA test results would have little effect on the outcome of the trial.
We first consider Reldan's
contention that the judge erred in denying his motion seeking to perform
DNA tests on the hair samples for the purpose of seeking a new trial.
2A:84A-32a, any person convicted of a crime who is currently serving a
term of imprisonment may file a motion with the trial court that entered
the judgment of conviction requesting the performance of DNA testing. In
order for the court to grant the motion, it must be established that:
(1) the evidence to be tested is
available and in a condition that would permit the DNA testing that is
requested in the motion;
(2) the evidence to be tested
has been subject to a chain of custody sufficient to establish it has
not been substituted, tampered with, replaced or altered in any material
(3) the identity of the
defendant was a significant issue in the case;
(4) the convicted person has
made a prima facie showing that the evidence sought to be tested is
material to the issue of the convicted person's identity as the offender;
(5) the requested DNA testing
result would raise a reasonable probability that if the results were
favorable to the defendant, a motion for a new trial based upon newly
discovered evidence would be granted. The court in its discretion may
consider any evidence whether or not it was introduced at trial;
(6) the evidence sought to be tested meets either of the following
(a) it was not tested previously;
(b) it was tested previously,
but the requested DNA test would provide results that are reasonably
more discriminating and probative of the identity of the offender or
have a reasonable probability of contradicting prior test results;
(7) the testing requested
employs a method generally accepted within the relevant scientific
(8) the motion is not made
solely for the purpose of delay.
The statute applies broadly to
any individual who was convicted of a crime and is currently serving a
sentence. State v. Peterson, 364 N.J. Super. 387, 394 (App. Div.
Under subsection (5) of this
statute, a defendant need not prove the DNA results will be favorable,
rather it must only be established that there is a reasonable
probability that a new trial would be granted if the DNA results are
favorable to the defendant. State v. Peterson, supra (364
N.J. Super. at 396-397). The general rule for the grant of a new
trial requires that a defendant show that the new evidence is: "(1)
material to the issue and not merely cumulative or impeaching or
contradictory; (2) discovered since the trial and not discoverable by
reasonable diligence beforehand; and (3) of the sort that would probably
change the jury’s verdict if a new trial were granted." State v.
Carter, 85 N.J. 300, 314 (1981).
Thus, a new trial would be
granted where "the State’s proofs are weak, when the record supports at
least a reasonable doubt of guilt, and when there exists a way to
establish guilt or innocence once and for all." State v. Thomas,
245 N.J. Super. 428, 436 (App. Div. 1991), appeal dismissed, 130
N.J. 588 (1992). See also State v. Cann, 342 N.J.
Super. 93, 104 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 170 N.J. 208 (2001).
A defendant cannot compel the State to release the evidence for DNA
testing where the evidence at trial was overwhelming and the defendant
did not present a defense or alibi that would be consistent with the
explanation the DNA results might supply. State v. Halsey, 329
N.J. Super. 553, 560 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 165 N.J. 491
(2000); compare State v. Peterson, supra (364
N.J. Super. at 396) ("the strength of the evidence against a
defendant is not a relevant factor in determining whether his identify
as the perpetrator was a significant issue").
Judge Venezia denied the motion
to compel DNA testing of the hair samples, concluding that all elements
were met except the fifth element, requiring prima facie evidence that
Reldan would be entitled to a new trial based on the newly discovered
evidence. He determined that there was overwhelming evidence of Reldan's
participation in the two murders.
This decision was based on
evidence presented at trial which included: (1) testimony of the jeweler
whom Reldan approached to try to sell the unique engagement ring
purchased in London and assertedly identical to S.H.'s ring; (2)
testimony of Melvin Norman claiming Reldan approached him to try to sell
him the same ring; (3) statements by Reldan during police interviews
linking him to the murders; (4) numerous witness accounts linking Reldan
to the victims; and (5) testimony from a prison inmate that Reldan
admitted killing the victims. The judge also noted evidence not
presented at trial: (1) blood stains found in Reldan's aunt’s garage
that matched the blood of S.R.; (2) police tracking dogs that detected
the scent of both victims in Reldan's car, garage and home; (3) the
account of a toll collector from the Port Authority, indicating that
Reldan was in the presence of one of the victims.
See footnote 2
The blood stains were presented at
trial, but excluded as speculative; however, the other evidence was not
presented. The judge concluded that it was not reasonably probable that
a new trial would be granted because the evidence of guilt made it
unlikely to change the jury verdict.
This case is distinguishable
from those cases where the court determined the DNA test results, if
favorable, could change the jury’s verdict. In State v. Peterson,
supra (364 N.J. Super. at 398-399), the DNA evidence was
semen found on the outside of the victim’s pants, blood under the
victim’s fingernails and hair on or near the body. This evidence could
not only exculpate the defendant, but implicate another. Thus, we
concluded that the DNA testing should be performed on the evidence.
Similarly, in State v. Velez, 329 N.J. Super. 128, 131, 136 (App.
Div. 2000), the evidence consisted of semen on the victim’s sweatshirt,
pants, and in a condom. Further, the defendant offered the alibi that he
was at his girlfriend’s house, which was corroborated by the
girlfriend's testimony at trial. We noted that this evidence could serve
to exculpate the defendant and potentially change the jury’s verdict.
The case at bar is more akin to
State v. White, 260 N.J. Super. 531, 539 (App. Div. 1992),
certif. denied, 133 N.J. 436 (1993), where we concluded that the
testing of semen found on defendant’s shirt would not be exculpatory as
it was not found on the victim’s clothing. These tests would not prove
defendant’s innocence. Here, DNA testing of the hairs found in Reldan's
car would not exculpate him, rather at best it might indicate that those
particular hairs were not those of either or both of the victims,
something that would not change the jury’s verdict where, as here, there
was overwhelming evidence linking Reldan to the crimes.
Other states have enacted
statutes similar to N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32d. For example, see
11 Delaware Code § 4504; Illinois St. Ch. 275 § 5/116-3; and Florida
Statutes Annotated § 925.11. Delaware has strictly applied its statute
so that failure to satisfy any of the requisites of the statute
precludes granting a defendant's motion for post-conviction relief since
the requirements are stated in a conjunctive manner. State v. White,
Nos. 96-05-0389 and 96-05-0390, 2 002 WL 31814862 (Del. Super. Ct. Oct.
31, 2002), aff'd, 818 A.2d 971 (Del. 2003); see also
Wolf v. State, 850 A.2d 303 (Del. 2004); and State v. Redding,
2 002 WL 31411021 (Del. Super. Ct. Oct. 28, 2002), rev'd on other
grounds, Anderson v. State, 831 A.2d 858 (Del. 2003). Similar
requirements exist in Illinois and Florida. See People v.
Price, 345 Ill. App.3d 129, 801 N.E.2d 1187 (App. 2d Dist. 2003);
People v. Urioste, 316 Ill. App.3d 307, 736 N.E.2d 706 (App. 5th
Dist. 2000); Harris v. State, 868 So.2d 589 (App. 3d Dist. 2004),
review denied, 880 So.2d 1211 (Fla. 2004) (holding that post-conviction
application of DNA testing appropriately denied given absence of
reasonable probability that results would have led to acquittal);
Tompkins v. State, 872 So.2d 230 (Fla. 2003) (finding no reasonable
probability of acquittal of capital murder based on DNA evidence of hair,
bone fragments, victim's robe or pajamas found in shallow grave);
Zollman v. State, 820 So.2d 1059 (App. 2d Dist. 2002), appeal
after remand, 854 So.2d 775 (App. 2d Dist. 2003) (whether DNA
testing will exonerate defendant requires consideration of the crime and
other available evidence); and King v. State, 808 So.2d 1237 (Fla.
2002), cert. denied, 536 U.S. 962, 112 S. Ct. 2670, 153 L. Ed.2d
843 (2002) (post-conviction DNA testing of hair fragment found on murder
victim's nightgown would not establish reasonable probability of
Simply stated, the judge
appropriately denied Reldan's post-conviction motion for DNA testing as
it would not have changed the jury’s verdict. Reldan did not establish
with reasonable probability that a new trial would be granted.
Reldan next contends that the
statute does not purport to allow evidence not admitted at trial to be
considered when determining whether DNA testing should be ordered post-judgment.
Alternatively, Reldan argues that if the statute were to allow the
consideration of evidence not admitted or produced at trial, then the
statute is fundamentally unfair.
See footnote 3
The statute provides in
(5) the requested DNA testing
result would raise a reasonable probability that if the results were
favorable to the defendant, a motion for a new trial based upon newly
discovered evidence would be granted. The court in its discretion may
consider any evidence whether or not it was introduced at trial.
[N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32a.d.(5) (Emphasis added).]
The language of the statute here
is clear and unambiguous. Thus, we read it under its plain meaning,
unless it is clearly contrary to the legislative intent. Chase
Manhattan Bank v. Josephson, 135 N.J. 209, 225 (1994). The statute
is clear and unambiguous that a judge considering this type of post-judgment
motion has the authority to review "any evidence whether or not it was
introduced at trial." Reldan argues that because the Assembly and Senate
committee statements do not address the nature of the evidence to be
considered, it would be contrary to the legislative intent to review
evidence either not presented at trial or evidence previously
characterized as inadmissible. With that being said, nothing in the
legislative history suggests that the plain meaning of the statute is
contrary to the legislative intent.
Regarding Reldan's second
contention, the doctrine of fundamental fairness has been characterized
as "an 'elusive concept . . . [where] exact boundaries are undefinable.'"
State v. Yoskowitz, 116 N.J. 679, 705 (1989). Essentially, it is
employed where the defendant has not been afforded a specific
constitutional protection. Ibid. However, it has been invoked and
limitations have been placed on government action where the
circumstances do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
See footnote 4
State v. Cruz, 171 N.J. 419,
429 (2002). The doctrine is applied sparingly and is preserved for
instances where failure to apply it would result in defendant being
subjected to "'oppression, harassment, or egregious deprivation.'"
State v. Maisonet, 166 N.J. 9, 20 (2001) (quoting
Yoskowitz, supra (116 N.J. at 712)).
Here, Reldan claims that the
statute violates fundamental fairness by giving the judge authority to
review evidence not introduced at trial because it prevents him from
having a fair and impartial hearing. While this argument may have
viability as to consideration of evidence already characterized as
inadmissible because the judge would review evidence kept from the jury
to determine whether the jury verdict would change, no fundamental
unfairness exists in the present case. There was more than sufficient
evidence in the record, without considering evidence either not
presented or determined inadmissible, for the judge to conclude that
there was no reasonable probability that a new trial would be granted.
Favorable DNA test results would not have changed the jury’s verdict in
this case because it would not have disproved Reldan's commission of the
N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-32a was
approved on January 8, 2002, but was to take effect on the 180th day
after enactment. L. 2001, c. 377, § 4. Thus, its effective
date was July 7, 2002, and Reldan's attorney conceded that technically
the statute did not apply because his motion was filed March 9, 2001. At
the November 12, 2002 hearing the judge reviewed this aspect with the
attorneys and concluded that he would look to the statute for guidance.
In view of the fact that the motion could have been withdrawn and
refiled after July 7, 2002, and before the argument date, we consider
the appeal within the statutory framework.
The judge determined as a matter
of law he was permitted to consider arguments and evidence not presented
at trial to determine whether the motion should be granted. This aspect
is further discussed in Point II, infra.
Obviously, DNA evidence was not
considered at the prior trials.
See State v. Tropea,
78 N.J. 309 (1978) (defendant's retrial was barred on a motor vehicle
speeding charge where reversal of earlier conviction was based on the
State's failure to prove the applicable speed limit); Rodriguez v.
Rosenblatt, 58 N.J. 281 (1971) (indigent individuals in municipal
court must be afforded the right to assigned counsel when facing charges
that could result in imprisonment); State v. Calvacca, 199 N.J.
Super. 434 (App. Div. 1985) (a second trial court was barred from
imposing a custodial sentence based on a drunk driving conviction
arising out of an event for which defendant had already received a
Robert R. Reldan