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N.J. High Court Throws Out Some Convictions Against Rape Convict

Conviction Upheld In One Case Against Bruce Sterling
(credit: CBS 2)

Gavel (file/credit: CBS 2)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The New Jersey State Supreme Court on Monday tossed some of the convictions against a man charged in several rapes in Middlesex County.

The court ruled that a lower court had been in error when it allowed several of the charges to be consolidated in one trial, and let certain evidence be introduced in a second trial.

Charges were upheld against the convict in one case.

Bruce Sterling was arrested in 2005 and charged with aggravated sexual assaults in New Brunswick, North Brunswick and Edison between 2002 and 2005. The victims testified he used a knife to threaten them during the attacks.

Sterling was convicted in two trials and sentenced to a total of 80 years.

In a ruling released Monday, the state Supreme Court threw out Sterling’s convictions in two of the alleged assaults, which were tried separately.

In a 6-1 ruling, the justices held that it was unfairly prejudicial for Sterling to have been tried for two of the assaults plus a separate burglary charge at his first trial. The court also ruled that evidence from the burglary should have been kept out of the second trial, in which Sterling was convicted of a rape in New Brunswick.

The Supreme Court upheld Sterling’s convictions on sexual assault charges against one victim in the first trial because, in its words, the lower court’s error was outweighed by “the strong, independent proof of defendant’s guilt,” consisting of DNA and the victim’s identification. The court upheld the conviction on burglary and related crimes as well.

Justice Barry Albin dissented, writing that all the convictions should have been reversed.

“However strong the State’s proofs may be, a defendant is entitled to a fair trial,” Albin wrote. “I will not, as the majority does, sit as a 13th juror, ignore the basic unfairness of the proceedings, and then pronounce, ‘Well, he was guilty anyway.”’

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