State v. Berrios

Citation187 Conn.App. 661,203 A.3d 571
Decision Date05 February 2019
Docket NumberAC 40043
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Dennis BERRIOS

Pamela S. Nagy, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and C. Robert Satti, Jr., supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

DiPentima, C.J., and Alvord and Lavery, Js.


The defendant, Dennis Berrios, appeals from the judgments of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 3a-55 (a) (1), tampering with a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-151 (a), intimidating a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-151a (A) (1) and evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 14-224 (a).1 On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of tampering with a witness and intimidating a witness, (2) the trial court improperly permitted certain testimony from a state medical examiner, (3) the court abused its discretion in admitting certain prior misconduct evidence, (4) the court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence crude text messages sent by the defendant and (5) the court improperly instructed the jury with respect to self-defense. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of conviction.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On August 9, 2014, Wilma Figueroa (Wilma) spent time with the defendant, her boyfriend, at his home on Park Street in Bridgeport. While in his kitchen after 7 p.m., the defendant angrily told Wilma that "the only thing he wanted for his [upcoming] birthday was to make everyone pay." He continued by stating that he had "unfinished business," that he was going to "hurt others" and that "there was going to be bloodshed." The defendant identified Wilma's brother, William Figueroa (William), as one of his targets. The defendant further stated that he needed money to purchase a gun from his cousin in Hartford and that he would use it to kill William.

Wilma went with the defendant to an automated teller machine, but purposefully entered an incorrect code to "lock out" the bank card and prevent the defendant from getting cash to buy the gun. After returning to the defendant's home, Wilma and her son departed at about 9 p.m.

Shortly thereafter, Justin Griffin walked from his residence to the home of the victim, Tyron Tate. Griffin saw a black Chevy Avalanche2 with its headlights off proceed through the intersection at William Street and Arctic Street without stopping at a stop sign, even though it was dark outside. Another witness, Michael Shuler, claimed that he was with Griffin and the victim when the defendant drove past the stop sign, "hit the gas and swerved towards [them while driving the Avalanche], and [they] jumped on the sidewalk."3

Approximately thirty minutes later, Griffin and the victim were walking to a corner store in the vicinity of Noble Avenue and Jane Street. While crossing the intersection, Griffin, who was talking or texting on his phone, walked in front of the victim. The victim shoved Griffin forward while shouting, "there's [the defendant]." While being pushed, Griffin looked to the left and saw a vehicle that had "just popped out of nowhere right there and had hit [the victim]." Shuler, who also was present, observed the defendant "hit the gas" and drive toward Griffin. Shuler also saw the Avalanche hit and drag the victim. Another witness to the incident, Jonathan Santos, observed the Avalanche depart in the wrong lane of travel at a high rate of speed.

The victim, after being struck by the Avalanche, was pulled under the front of the vehicle. Griffin chased after the vehicle as the victim was trapped underneath. Griffin observed the victim "stuck" under the Avalanche, which was "bouncing up and down on him." Eventually, the front tire on the driver's side of the Avalanche "bounc[ed]" on the victim's head, and his body was freed as the vehicle was driven away. As Griffin approached the victim, he observed a significant blood loss from the head and face, as well as other injuries.

As Shuler ran toward the home of the victim's mother, he noticed that the Avalanche had returned to the area of Jane Street and Noble Avenue. The driver's side window had been lowered, and Shuler identified the defendant as the operator of the vehicle. Shuler also stated that the defendant might have "laughed or something."

Anthony Caiazzo, a Bridgeport police officer, received a dispatch at approximately 10 p.m., and was directed to Noble Avenue between Arctic Street and Jane Street. Upon Caiazzo's arrival, he observed the victim on the ground receiving medical aid. Paramedics transported the victim to Bridgeport Hospital, where he died from his injuries.4 Caiazzo retrieved a surveillance video from a store located on the corner of Arctic Street and Noble Avenue.

The next morning, on August 10, 2014, Bridgeport police officers located the Avalanche and detained the defendant at his home. The defendant invited the officers into his home where he was interviewed by the officers, who audio recorded the interview. The defendant initially claimed to have left Bridgeport in the Avalanche at about 6:30 or 7 p.m. on August 9, 2014, to visit his brother in Dayville. The defendant then stated that he had returned to his Bridgeport home moments before the police officers detained him. Upon further questioning, the defendant again stated that he was at his brother's residence in Dayville and not in Bridgeport at the time of the incident involving the victim.

The police informed the defendant of the existence of a video recording of his Avalanche in Bridgeport the prior night. The defendant's initial response was that the video must have been recorded earlier that evening, but he eventually acknowledged that the Avalanche was in Bridgeport at the time the victim was hit. The police then questioned the defendant regarding certain damage5 to the Avalanche. At first, the defendant claimed that the damage had occurred in April, 2014, but subsequently stated that "two people [had thrown] rocks at his vehicle at the corner of Noble [Avenue] and Jane [Street] that night before." The defendant eventually acknowledged that he had hit the victim with the Avalanche on August 9, 2014. At the conclusion of this interview, the police arrested the defendant.

The police interviewed Wilma on August 21, 2014. At that time, she did not discuss the verbal threats made by the defendant on August 9, 2014. During the next few months, the relationship between the defendant and Wilma waned, and they stopped being intimate in October, 2014. In the middle of January, 2015, the defendant sent her text messages that caused her to contact the police. The defendant texted Wilma a warning that she should "[c]hoose wisely," that the victim's mother had performed oral sex on him during the relationship, that his attorney was going to "rip [you all] a new [a]sshole," that she was going to find out what the defendant was "[a]bout," that "[d]ecisions come with consequences," that he hated her because she abandoned him, that she played "both sides of the fence" and would "pay [for her] betrayal," and that he was standing on her "corner ...." These text messages frightened Wilma. A police detective conducted a second interview with her on January 23, 2015.

The state charged the defendant in three separate informations. The informations were consolidated for trial, which occurred over several days in October, 2016. The jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter in the first degree, tampering with a witness (Wilma), intimidating a witness (Wilma) and evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle. The court accepted the verdicts and, on December 9, 2016, sentenced the defendant to twenty years incarceration for the manslaughter conviction, ten years incarceration, execution suspended after five years for the evasion of responsibility conviction, ten years incarceration, execution suspended after five years for the intimidating a witness conviction and ten years incarceration for the tampering with a witness conviction. The sentences for the evasion of responsibility and intimidating a witness counts were to run consecutively to the sentence for the manslaughter count; the sentence for tampering with a witness was to run concurrently with the other counts. Thus, the defendant's total effective sentence was forty years incarceration, execution suspended after thirty years, and five years probation with certain conditions. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as needed.


The defendant first claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of tampering with a witness and intimidating a witness. Specifically, he argues that his conviction for these two crimes "must be vacated because the state failed to prove that any threats [he] made were intended to prevent or affect [Wilma's] testimony. The texts show that [the] defendant was infuriated with her because she had been supporting [the victim's] family and aligning herself with her brother behind his back. The threats were made because of her betrayal and were not about any future testimony she might give." The state counters that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding that the defendant's threats "were not simply rants motivated by anger over her perceived betrayal and disloyalty, but were intended to influence or prevent any testimony that she might give against him at a criminal trial." We agree with the state.

As an initial matter, we set forth our standard of review and relevant legal principles. "A defendant who asserts an insufficiency of the evidence claim bears an arduous burden." (Internal...

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9 cases
  • State v. Wilson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • January 11, 2022
    ...serves to lessen any prejudice resulting from the admission of such evidence." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berrios , 187 Conn. App. 661, 697, 203 A.3d 571, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 917, 204 A.3d 1159 (2019). The defendant argues on appeal that, "[a]lthough evidence that the ......
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  • State v. Moon
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    ...instructions presents a question of law over which [we have] plenary review." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berrios , 187 Conn. App. 661, 705–706, 203 A.3d 571, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 917, 204 A.3d 1159 (2019). This standard of review also applies to supplemental instruction......
  • Jordan v. Comm'r of Corr.
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    • June 9, 2020
    ...communicates to such other person his intent to do so." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berrios , 187 Conn. App. 661, 715, 203 A.3d 571, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 917, 204 A.3d 1159 (2019) ; see General Statutes § 53a-19 (c). Importantly, "a person may respond ......
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