State v. Bonner, No. 17628.

Decision Date24 February 2009
Docket NumberNo. 17628.
Citation290 Conn. 468,964 A.2d 73
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Rhondell BONNER.

Christopher Y. Duby, special public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

John A. East III, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Anne Mahoney, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).


The defendant, Rhondell Bonner, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of murder as a principal or accessory in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a and 53a-8, one count of carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35, and one count of criminal possession of a pistol in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217c. The defendant claims that the trial court improperly (1) denied his motion to dismiss for lack of a speedy trial, (2) denied him his constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of the prosecution because he was not present at various discussions regarding potential conflicts of interest involving the office of the public defender, and (3) admitted the murder weapon and testimony relating to its chain of possession over the defendant's objections on grounds of relevance, prejudice and hearsay. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

A jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the night of December 28, 2002, the defendant, his uncle, Calvin King, and four young women were loitering in the lobby of an apartment building located at 37 Cabot Street in Hartford. Several witnesses had observed the defendant and King openly displaying semiautomatic handguns. One of the apartment's residents Annabelle Trimmier, who was well acquainted with the defendant, was disturbed by the noisy crowd in her lobby and ordered the group to leave the building, whereupon they left and began loitering in front of the building.

At approximately 1 a.m. on December 29, 2002, a car operated by the victim, Scott Houle, pulled up to the curb near 41 Cabot Street, where the defendant and King were standing. The victim apparently was seeking to purchase crack cocaine. Moments after the defendant and King approached the victim's car to consummate the transaction, one of the young women, Brittaney Simpson, heard the defendant exclaim, "he's trying to play me," as the victim attempted to drive off without paying for the drugs. At the same time, the defendant and King began firing their handguns rapidly in the direction of the victim's vehicle, riddling it with bullets. The vehicle rolled across the street, over the curb, and came to rest after hitting a fence. The defendant and King fled the scene.

Upon reaching the scene, Hartford police found the victim slumped over in the driver's seat of his car. There were numerous bullet holes in the vehicle, and the rear window had been shattered. The victim had been shot seven times and was pronounced dead at the scene. The medical examiner determined that the victim's death was caused by gunshot wounds to the head and chest, and that it was a homicide.

An investigation of the incident led to the defendant's arrest on March 28, 2003. He subsequently was charged with murder as a principal or accessory, conspiracy to commit murder, carrying a pistol without a permit and criminal possession of a pistol. The defendant was arraigned on March 31, 2003, and bond was set at $1 million. Following a hearing conducted on May 12 and 15, 2003, the court found probable cause to believe that the defendant had committed the offenses with which he had been charged. After various proceedings and delays lasting more than two years, the defendant's trial commenced on November 1, 2005. On November 11, 2005, the jury returned a verdict, finding the defendant guilty on all counts except the conspiracy count. On January 19, 2006, the defendant was sentenced to a total effective sentence of fifty-five years imprisonment. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

The defendant raises three distinct issues on appeal. We will address each issue separately.


The defendant first claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion to dismiss for lack of a speedy trial, in violation of his rights under the federal and state constitutions.1 The state argues that the court's denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss was proper because his speedy trial motion was premature. We conclude that the trial court properly declined to dismiss the case on speedy trial grounds.

The record discloses the following additional facts that are relevant to this issue. On October 22, 2004, the defendant filed a motion for a speedy trial pursuant to Practice Book § 43-39 et seq.2 The court held a hearing on the defendant's motion on October 27, 2004. At the hearing, the following colloquy occurred:

"The Court: All right. Will you assist the court, [Attorney Matthew D.] Goetz,3 on the computations?

"[Attorney] Goetz: Certainly, Your Honor.... Notwithstanding the arrest date of March of 2003, Your Honor, this matter has been considered [on] excludable time pursuant to [statute] and the [rules of practice]. Since approximately the end of July of 2003, it's been a [sic] pretrial status up and until today, which [sic] the motion was filed October 22 of this year, and the defendant has excludable time status since that time, since July of 2003."

Given an opportunity to respond, defense counsel made the following statement: "I was not involved in this case until some time in the spring. So I can't speak to some of the time that has transpired .... I have to be honest with the court, and I think [the defendant] will understand, as I did need time to review the file, [conduct] discovery, talk to [the defendant] and continue to conduct investigation." The court ruled that, "based on the representations of [Attorney] Goetz ... [a]nd based on [defense counsel's] not refuting any of that ... [the defendant is] not entitled to a speedy trial [at this time].... [T]he motion is denied."

The trial court addressed its reasons for denying the defendant's motion for a speedy trial on several subsequent occasions. On December 3, 2004, the court held a hearing in which it continued the defendant's case until January 19, 2005, pending the probable cause hearing of King, a potential codefendant. At the close of that hearing, the following colloquy occurred:

"The Court: Anything else, [defense counsel]?

"[Defense Counsel]: Just, Your Honor, to make clear that none of this time counts against his speedy trial time.

"[Assistant State's Attorney]: Just want to be clear from today's date, all prior time has been excludable but from today's date until January 19 [2005].

"The Court: All right. Starting today, including today, it is not excludable for purposes of [any] speedy trial motion."

At the January 19, 2005 hearing, the defendant himself asked the trial court why his speedy trial motion of October 22, 2004, was denied. The following colloquy occurred:

"The Court: I went over that last time with you.

"The Defendant: You never went over that with me.

"The Court: I did. I did. I recall. The record will show that I did. It wasn't ripe yet. There was a lot of excludable time.... I don't know when you're going to—you may want to file a new one. That's up to you. I don't know if it's ripe yet.4

"The Defendant: What's the point of filing a new one if I don't have enough time. Out of twenty-two months, you mean to tell me I don't have eight months in to file a speedy trial motion?

"The Court: A lot of ... this time is excludable for a lot of reasons ... [w]hich means it doesn't count against the running of the clock."

Later in the same hearing, the assistant state's attorney sought to clarify the record with respect to the excludable time:

"[Assistant State's Attorney]: ... [I]t's the state's position that, up until the last court date, which was December 30, 2004,5 all of that—it's the state's position that it's all excludable time for discovery for the defense, for investigation by the defense, for switch-over attorneys by the defense .... So I just want it to be clear on the record ... that the only [includable] time in this case is from December 30, 2004,6 until January 19, 2005. That's the only time period the state requested for a continuance.

"The Court: Do you want to be heard on that?

"[Defense Counsel]: Not at this time, Your Honor."7

On September 2, 2005, the defendant filed a second motion for a speedy trial, as well as a motion to dismiss on the basis of the court's denial of his initial speedy trial motion of October 22, 2004. The trial court held a hearing on these motions on September 14, 2005. At that hearing, the following colloquy occurred:

"The Court: When was the case ripe for the filing of the speedy trial motion?

"[Assistant State's Attorney]: Your Honor, I don't know off the top of my head. I have to get [Attorney] Goetz in, sit down and figure that out.

"[Defense Counsel]: ... I was monitoring the situation. I spoke with [Attorney] Goetz. He would say within the last couple of weeks, the latter part of August, say, late August of this year.

"The Court: All right. And then the speedy trial motion was filed. * * *

"[Defense Counsel]: September 2.

* * *

"The Court: It was from October 22, 2004, until September 2, 2005. There were no motions for a speedy trial filed within that period.

"[Defense Counsel]: That's correct.

"The Court: Therefore, even if he had been eligible to file a speedy trial motion, the fact remains, he didn't file [one].

"[Defense Counsel]: We were monitoring, I was working, I was inquiring of [Attorney] Goetz and monitoring the situation to file it, you know.

"The Court: When it was appropriate?

"[Defense Counsel]: Yes.

"The Court: You were up to speed on those calculations and the clock running so that when it...

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