Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey announced that an appeals court today upheld the 2012 conviction of a New Brunswick man who was found guilty of fatally shooting another city resident during a dispute.
But the Appellate Division of Superior Court sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing after ruling that the initial sentence of life in prison without parole was inappropriate.
The ruling was handed down in a 22-page written decision by the three-judge panel, which agreed with Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Nancy Hulett, who asked the appeals court to uphold the conviction of the defendant, Brian Fowlkes.
The August 20, 2012 conviction on murder and two weapons offenses marked the second time Fowlkes, 37, was found guilty in the fatal shooting of Hassan Bass, 24, on May 22, 2004.
The appeals court held that the trial judge should not have permitted testimony about a gun seized from the defendant, since it was not the murder weapon, but ruled that the withholding of that information would not have changed the outcome of the trial, in view of an “overwhelming” amount of evidence against Fowlkes.
The court also ruled that testimony of a key witness, a jailhouse informant, was admissible, noting that the informant did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel by talking to the defendant and then reporting his conversations with law enforcement.
Additionally, the three-judge panel determined the trial court did not improperly instruct the jury on the laws that applied in the case and ruled that Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Bina Desai, did not offer any prejudicial comments during her trial summation to the jury.
In sending the case back to the trial court for re-sentencing, the appellate panel said Fowlkes should not have been sentenced to life with no chance for parole, and that his term should be reduced by approximately two years he was in custody awaiting his retrial.
Under New Jersey law, Fowlkes must be imprisoned for 30 years to life when he is re-sentenced in New Brunswick. No sentencing date has been set.
During the retrial that began with jury selection on July 30, 2012, Assistant Prosecutor Desai argued that Fowlkes shot and killed Bass during their on-going dispute, which began while both men were serving custodial terms at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville.
After serving their terms for unrelated aggravated assault convictions, the dispute continued and culminated when Fowlkes shot and killed Bass outside a fast food restaurant at George and Hassart streets in New Brunswick.