State v. Ashby

Decision Date06 August 2020
Docket NumberSC 18190
Citation247 A.3d 521,336 Conn. 452
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Lazale ASHBY

Adele V. Patterson, senior assistant public defender, Jennifer L. Bourn, supervisory assistant public defender, and Judith L. Borman, former senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Melissa L. Streeto, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and John Fahey, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.*


The principal issue in this appeal is whether the state violated its affirmative obligation under Massiah v. United States , 377 U.S. 201, 206, 84 S. Ct. 1199, 12 L. Ed. 2d 246 (1964), and its progeny to respect and preserve an invocation of the right to counsel under the sixth amendment to the United States constitution by using a jailhouse informant, Kenneth Pladsen, Jr., to deliberately elicit certain incriminating statements from the defendant, Lazale Ashby. The defendant, who was convicted of several crimes in connection with a murder in the city of Hartford on the night of December 1, 2002, appeals1 from the underlying judgment, raising numerous claims of error. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the defendant's constitutional right to counsel was violated and, accordingly, that he is entitled to a new trial on all counts. With respect to the defendant's other claims, we conclude that (1) he is not entitled to a judgment of acquittal on the charge of burglary in the first degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2001) § 53a-101 (a) (2) on the ground of insufficient evidence, and (2) the trial court improperly declined to provide a third-party culpability instruction to the jury in light of certain unidentified male DNA discovered at the crime scene.2

The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. On December 1, 2002, the victim3 was living with her two year old daughter on the second floor of a three story apartment building located on Zion Street in Hartford. At approximately 7 p.m. that evening, Yvette Davila, who lived in an apartment on the third floor, invited the victim's daughter upstairs to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on television. The victim went upstairs about one-half hour later, left her daughter with Davila, and never returned. Although Davila made several attempts to contact the victim over the hours that followed, those efforts proved unsuccessful. Davila's husband, Daniel Roman, went downstairs the following morning, noticed that a door to the victim's apartment was ajar, and stepped into the victim's kitchen. Once inside, Roman saw the victim's naked body lying on the floor of an adjacent bedroom. Roman then went back upstairs to his apartment, where he and Davila called the police at 7:17 a.m.

The evidence offered at trial indicates that the victim died as the result of strangulation. Specifically, an examination of the body revealed petechial hemorrhages and neck abrasions consistent with the use of an irregular ligature. The victim had also sustained several nonfatal injuries, including numerous stab wounds to her back. Forensic evidence did not establish an exact time of death, but the presence of rigor mortis indicated that the victim had been dead for hours by the time the paramedics arrived that morning. A significant amount of blood was found in both the kitchen and the bedroom.

The police subsequently developed an unspecified lead and, as a result of that information, were able to obtain a warrant for a sample of the defendant's DNA to test against several samples collected from the crime scene. Those tests revealed that the defendant and an unidentified male were contributors to certain DNA profiles developed from the victim's vaginal swab. On September 3, 2003, the defendant, who was eighteen years old at the time, was arrested by the police. He waived his Miranda4 rights and then was questioned at length. Although the defendant initially denied knowing or having sex with the victim, he ultimately gave a written confession after being confronted with the results of the testing that had been performed on the victim's vaginal swab.5

The operative information in the present case contained nine counts, including two counts of capital felony; General Statutes (Rev. to 2001) § 53a-54b (5) and (6); one count of murder; General Statutes § 53a-54a (a) ; one count of felony murder; General Statutes (Rev. to 2001) § 53a-54c; one count of sexual assault in the first degree; General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (1) ; three counts of kidnapping in the first degree; General Statutes § 53a-92 (a) (2) (A), (B) and (C) ; and one count of burglary in the first degree. General Statutes (Rev. to 2001) § 53a-101 (a) (2). The defendant pleaded not guilty, and a trial commenced on May 8, 2007.6 On June 27, 2007, a jury returned a verdict finding the defendant guilty on all counts. The trial court subsequently rendered a judgment of conviction in accordance with the jury's verdict.7 This appeal followed. See footnote 1 of this opinion.


We begin with the defendant's claim that the state violated his right to counsel under the sixth amendment.8 Pladsen, a jailhouse informant who was incarcerated with the defendant prior to and during the defendant's trial, testified that the defendant had asked him to participate in a ruse intended to undermine the credibility of Andrew Weaver, a detective with the Hartford Police Department. The defendant sought to suppress that testimony pursuant to Massiah v. United States , supra, 377 U.S. at 201, 84 S.Ct. 1199, and its progeny, arguing that Pladsen had deliberately elicited incriminating statements while acting as an agent of the police. On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court incorrectly concluded that no agency relationship existed and, as a result, improperly denied his motion to suppress Pladsen's testimony pursuant to Massiah . In response, the state contends that the trial court's conclusion was correct, and, therefore, the defendant's motion to suppress was properly denied. We agree with the defendant.

The record reveals the following additional undisputed facts relating to Pladsen's involvement in the present case. On December 27, 2006, Pladsen wrote a letter to Weaver. At that time, Pladsen was an inmate at Northern Correctional Institution (Northern) in Somers and interacted with the defendant on a regular basis.9 That letter stated, among other things, that Pladsen had information about the defendant that could prove "very useful" to Weaver, that Pladsen was scheduled to be paroled to serve a separate fifty-five year sentence in Iowa, and that Pladsen would be extradited back to Connecticut after serving that sentence. The letter referenced certain individuals involved in another criminal case that was pending against the defendant and included the following invitation: "You want my help, come [and] see me [and] we'll talk." The letter stated that Pladsen was not seeking a transfer to another correctional institution, a sentence reduction, or "anything like that."

In response to Pladsen's letter, Weaver scheduled a meeting that was held in a private office at Northern on January 5, 2007. During that meeting, Weaver and Pladsen spoke specifically about the defendant's involvement in the victim's death. Pladsen did not convey any detailed information but, instead, provided only general facts to show that "he might know something." At some point during that conversation, Weaver inquired whether Pladsen would be willing to wear a wire.10 Pladsen initially expressed some concern but ultimately agreed. Pladsen also asked whether he would benefit in some way from providing information about the defendant.11 Weaver said that any "deals" or plans to use a wire would have to be approved by the Office of the State's Attorney and that he would get back to Pladsen.12 Pladsen said that he understood. Weaver then added that the police are "always interested" in gathering information about criminal matters from reliable sources and that he would be willing to listen to, and subsequently verify, anything Pladsen had to say. Weaver also made Pladsen generally aware that the defendant's trial was imminent and that the Office of the State's Attorney would be told any relevant information. Weaver then told Pladsen that, because of his criminal record and history, his word "[w]asn't going to be good enough ...."

The Office of the State's Attorney subsequently advised Weaver to take no further action with respect to Pladsen. As a result, Weaver did not follow up with Pladsen as Weaver had promised. Over the months that followed, a corrections officer contacted Weaver on a few occasions to let him know that Pladsen wanted to speak again. On May 17, 2007, Weaver asked a corrections officer to inform Pladsen that "nothing ... had changed" and that Weaver would try to be in touch again soon.13

Pladsen testified that he eventually told the defendant about the meeting with Weaver. Pladsen stated that the defendant had then made a plan for Pladsen to feed Weaver information about the case so that the state would call Pladsen as a witness.

According to Pladsen, he was then supposed to lie on the stand and say that he had received that information from Weaver. Pladsen testified that he asked the defendant to write the information down and that the defendant had created a one page note as a result. On May 28, 2007, a few days before the state was scheduled to rest its case, Weaver received multiple telephone calls indicating that Pladsen wanted to get in touch again. Pladsen testified that Weaver called him the following day to ask what information Pladsen had. Pladsen then read Weaver the note over the telephone.14

The state immediately notified the defense of its...

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4 cases
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 22, 2021
    ...issuing judge's reliance on the informant's corroboration of the caliber of the firearm used in the crimes.12 See State v. Ashby , 336 Conn. 452, 468, 247 A.3d 521 (2020) (Appellate review of the trial court's resolution of a constitutional claim "is not limited to the facts the trial court......
  • Wind Colebrook S., LLC v. Town of Colebrook
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 2, 2022
    ...of gas, heating, or energy producing companies, telephone companies, water and water power companies."25 See, e.g., State v. Ashby , 336 Conn. 452, 493, 247 A.3d 521 (2020) (observing that this court may presume that legislature was aware of its decision interpreting statute when legislatur......
  • Carpenter v. Daar
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • February 1, 2023
    ...that the legislature is presumed to be aware of this court's interpretation of statutes when it acts; see, e.g., State v. Ashby , 336 Conn. 452, 493, 247 A.3d 521 (2020) ; because, by adding subsection (c) to § 52-190a, P.A. 05-275 made clear the necessity of dismissal as the remedy for fai......
  • State v. Alvarez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • December 14, 2021 an issue likely to arise on remand, we need not address questions of harmless error in the present appeal. See State v. Ashby , 336 Conn. 452, 496 n.43, 247 A.3d 521 (2020). Nevertheless, we do note that, in arguing that any error in admitting P's testimony was harmless, the state relies......
1 books & journal articles
  • Other grounds for suppressing confessions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Confessions and other statements
    • April 1, 2022
    ...the information? If not, what was the informant’s expectation as to what would occur? • Did the informant take notes? In State v. Ashby , 247 A.3d 521 (Conn. 2020), the Court found a Sixth Amendment violation when the jailhouse informant approached law enforcement, and the officer and infor......

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