A city man charged with sexual assault and sentenced to eight-year prison term filed an appeal claiming a New Jersey Superior Court judge coerced the jury to find him guilty. Appellate court judges Tuesday denied the man’s appeal.
Stefan Zebrowski, 17-year-old at the time of the incident, was tried as an adult over a June 20, 2007 sexual assault incident. Zebrowski forced a woman at knife-point to a Paterson backyard where he ordered her to perform sex acts. The victim complied before running away from Zebrowski to find help when he became distracted talking on his phone, according to court records.
The victim found help, police was called. Police took the victim to the hospital where her mouth was swabbed. A DNA swab later taken from Zebrowski matched. Police did not find a knife at the scene.
Zebrowski was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault while armed with a knife, third-degree possession of a knife for unlawful purpose, and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a knife.
During a subsequent trial the jury was not unanimous on finding Zebrowski guilty on any of the counts. “The jury is not unanimous on any counts,” read a note that was transmitted to the judge. The judge noted the jury was deliberating for less than two hours.
“I am going to ask you all to continue with your deliberations. As I said before, you’ve been deliberating now for a little under two hours,” the judge told the jury. Members of the jury returned to the jury room to deliberate.
The jury deliberated until 4:30 p.m. that day before being dismissed for the weekend. Upon returning, the jury found Zebrowski guilty of sexual assault and not guilty on the remaining charges.
Zebrowski argued in his appeal that the judge did not ask whether the jurors were deadlocked before instructing them to deliberate further. Zebrowski argued the judge’s instruction to the jurors was “coercive and violative” of his “right to due process.”
Appellate Court Judges Ellen Koblitz and Michael Haas found the note to the judge indicated the jury was not unanimous, but did not state their position was “’intractable’ or firm.” Koblitz and Haas cited precedents where a judge exercised discretion requiring additional deliberations after jury failed to agree on a verdict. Koblitz and Haas wrote, had the jury reported a definite deadlock then it would not have been appropriate for the judge to order additional deliberation, but that was not the case here.
In his appeal Zebrowski also states his sentence was excessive. The sentencing judge imposed an eight-year sentence with a mandatory 85-percent period parole ineligibility and mandatory parole supervision for life.
Zebrowski was also charged and sentenced on separate gun charges. He was sentenced to a concurrent five-year term with three-year minimum for second-degree handgun possession which occurred on January 17, 2008.
Zebrowski was given an additional concurrent 18-month prison term for fourth-degree violation related to a gun purchase on March 14, 2008. Based on Zebrowski criminal record, accumulated in a short period of time, judges found the eight-year sentence appropriate for the crime.
Zebrowski also argued that as a juvenile he was suffering from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions that no longer affect him as an adult. The judges did not buy Zebrowski’s argument, he “pled guilty to two crimes involving handguns: one that occurred in January and one in March 2008, both shortly after he turned eighteen years old,” Koblitz and Haas wrote.
Zebrowski in his appeal urged the judges to apply 553 days of jail credit that was awarded to him during the eight-year sentencing to his other concurrent prison sentences. Koblitz and Haas, with concession from the state, applied the credits to the concurrent sentences.