State v. Copas

Decision Date14 March 2000
Docket Number(SC 15759)
Citation746 A.2d 761,252 Conn. 318
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Norcott, Katz, Palmer, Sullivan and Callahan, Js. Elizabeth M. Inkster, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Judith Rossi, executive assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Patricia A. Swords, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



A jury found the defendant, David L. Copas, guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a).1 The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury verdict and sentenced the defendant to a prison term of sixty years. On appeal,2 the defendant claims that the trial court improperly: (1) permitted the state to elicit a certain statement during its examination of two expert psychiatric witnesses; (2) denied the defendant's motions for a mistrial and a new trial based on allegedly improper comments that the prosecutor had made during her closing argument; and (3) instructed the jury on reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence. We reject the defendant's claims and, consequently, affirm his conviction.3

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On Friday evening, April 25, 1986, the sixteen year old victim, Laura Bieu, and two friends, Katherine Harakaly and Sherry Roy, hitchhiked to the Lucky Strike bowling alley in Mansfield, where they played pinball and socialized.4 As the three girls were preparing to leave the bowling alley at approximately 11 p.m., the defendant, whom the victim had met a couple of weeks earlier and knew slightly, agreed to give them a ride home. After unsuccessfully trying to purchase some marijuana at a nearby housing complex, the defendant drove to Harakaly's home in Ashford and dropped off Harakaly and Roy. The victim, who appeared to be frightened by the prospect of riding alone with the defendant, asked if she, too, could spend the night at Harakaly's house. Harakaly responded that her father would not allow it. Harakaly stated, however, that she would call the victim's home in one-half hour, believing that such a statement would assuage the victim's concerns by deterring the defendant from engaging in any inappropriate conduct with the victim.

On Sunday, April 27, 1996, the victim's body, bloody and partially covered by rocks, was found in a secluded, heavily wooded area near Hop River Road in Coventry. An autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed approximately twenty times and that she had suffered multiple blunt force injuries. The victim died as a result of a deep stab wound that had punctured her left lung and blunt force trauma to her head. According to expert testimony, the victim lived for approximately thirty minutes after sustaining these injuries.

During the course of its investigation into the victim's disappearance, the Coventry police interviewed the defendant. He told them that he had dropped the victim off at her grandmother's home at about 1 a.m. on Saturday morning and that he had not seen her since that time. Thereafter, the police obtained search warrants for the defendant's car, residence and person. Upon being taken to the Coventry police department for execution of the warrant for his person, the defendant confessed to killing the victim. Specifically, the defendant admitted that, after having sexual intercourse with the victim,5 he stabbed her repeatedly in the head, torso and legs,6 and struck her in the head with a rock.7 As the victim lay dying, the defendant took a necklace from her and removed $13 from her purse. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.


The defendant first claims that he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court improperly permitted the state, during its examination of two expert witnesses, to elicit testimony from those witnesses regarding a certain statement that the defendant had made to Michelle Veilleux, the defendant's roommate. We disagree.

The following additional facts are relevant to our determination of the defendant's first claim. At trial, the defendant did not deny killing the victim, but asserted the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance.8 In support of his defense, the defendant presented the testimony of Walter Borden, a psychiatrist, who stated that the defendant suffered from "borderline personality" disorder, and had killed the victim in a "reactive rage" after the victim had attacked him with a knife.9 According to Borden, the defendant did not kill the victim with premeditation or forethought, but, rather, exploded with anger when the victim assaulted him.10

On cross-examination, the state sought to discredit Borden's testimony that the defendant had acted under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance when he killed the victim. Specifically, the state questioned Borden about a statement that the defendant had made to Veilleux, who reiterated the statement to Borden during an interview that Borden had conducted with Veilleux in connection with his psychiatric evaluation of the defendant.11 Borden testified that Veilleux had told him that, one week prior to the victim's death, the defendant, Veilleux and a third person, Phillip Tardif, were smoking marijuana together in the area of Hop River Road where the victim's body later was found. Borden further testified that Veilleux stated that, at that time, the defendant had remarked to Veilleux that the Hop River Road location "would be a good place to rape you, kill you, leave you, and ... no one would ever find you."12

The defendant raised a timely objection to the state's inquiry, claiming that Borden's testimony regarding the defendant's comment to Veilleux was irrelevant and, even if relevant, that its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value. The state responded that the statement was relevant to the credibility of Borden's opinion that the defendant had killed the victim in a reactive rage. The trial court overruled the defendant's objection, concluding that the probative value of the challenged statement was "very high" and that any possible prejudicial effect of the evidence was "far outweighed by [its] probative value...."

At the conclusion of the state's cross-examination of Borden on this issue, the trial court instructed the jury not to consider the challenged statement as substantive evidence, but, rather, solely for the purpose of evaluating the validity of Borden's opinion.13 Finally, on redirect examination, Borden testified that Veilleux had told him that she had "laughed ... off the defendant's statement because it was not uncommon for men in her circle of friends to express themselves in such a manner, especially when they were drinking or using drugs.14

Subsequently, Peter Zeman, a psychiatrist, testified as a rebuttal witness for the state. Zeman disagreed with Borden's conclusion that the defendant had killed the victim in a reactive rage. Zeman concluded that the defendant had antisocial and narcissistic personality features, and that his attack of the victim was the product of those personality traits. Zeman disagreed with Borden's opinion that the killing was outside the normal course of behavior for the defendant. Zeman cited the defendant's comment to Veilleux about killing and raping her as evidence of the defendant's irritability and aggressiveness, traits that suggest that the defendant had killed the victim in conformity with an antisocial personality disorder rather than under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance. At the defendant's request, the trial court instructed the jury to consider Zeman's testimony regarding the defendant's statement not for the statement's truth, but only insofar as the statement constituted a basis for Zeman's opinion.15

On appeal, the defendant renews the claims that he had raised in the trial court. "As a threshold matter, we set forth the standard by which this court reviews a challenge to a trial court's [evidentiary ruling]. The trial court's ruling on the admissibility of evidence is entitled to great deference.... [T]he trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility ... of evidence.... The trial court's ruling on evidentiary matters will be overturned only upon a showing of a clear abuse of the court's discretion.... We will make every reasonable presumption in favor of upholding the trial court's ruling, and only upset it for a manifest abuse of discretion." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Berger, 249 Conn. 218, 229, 733 A.2d 156 (1999).

We first address the question of whether the defendant's statement to Veilleux was relevant to the testimony of Borden and Zeman. "Relevant evidence is evidence that has a logical tendency to aid the trier in the determination of an issue.... [E]vidence need not exclude all other possibilities [to be relevant]; it is sufficient if it tends to support the conclusion [for which it is offered], even to a slight degree.... [T]he fact that evidence is susceptible of different explanations or would support various inferences does not affect its admissibility, although it obviously bears upon its weight. So long as the evidence may reasonably be construed in such a manner that it would be relevant, it is admissible." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Booth, 250 Conn. 611, 645, 737 A.2d 404 (1999).

"A basic and proper purpose of cross-examination of an expert is to test that expert's credibility." Hayes v. Manchester Memorial Hospital, 38 Conn. App. 471, 475, 661 A.2d 123, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 922, 666 A.2d 1185 (1995); see also 1 C. McCormick, Evidence (5th Ed. 1999) § 13, pp. 65-66. Thus, "[i]t is well established that an expert witness can be examined concerning the factual basis of his [or her] opinion. United States v. Madrid, 673 F.2d 1114, 1120-21 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 843, 103 S. Ct. 96, 74 L. Ed. 2d 88...

To continue reading

Request your trial
105 cases
  • State v. James G.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • April 13, 2004
    ...admitted." (Emphasis altered; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Sandoval, supra, 263 Conn. 544, quoting State v. Copas, 252 Conn. 318, 329-30, 746 A.2d 761 (2000); see also State v. Robertson, 254 Conn. 739, 758, 760 A.2d 82 (2000) ("Although the tapes were prejudicial, all incrim......
  • State v. Allen
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 25, 2008
    ...undue prejudice so that it threatens an injustice were it to be admitted." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Copas, 252 Conn. 318, 329-30, 746 A.2d 761 (2000); see also State v. Robertson, 254 Conn. 739, 758, 760 A.2d 82 (2000) ("Although the [audio]tapes were prejudicial, all in......
  • State v. Mucha, No. 32395.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • July 31, 2012
    ...jurors fairly could be presumed, absent any evidence to the contrary, to have followed the court's instructions; see State v. Copas, 252 Conn. 318, 331, 746 A.2d 761 (2000); either by avoiding all intentional contact with newspapers following their selection as jurors or, at a minimum, by a......
  • State v. Walker
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 13, 2019
    ...[c]lause." Id., at 58, 132 S.Ct. 2221. We have recognized this evidentiary principle in other contexts. See State v. Copas , 252 Conn. 318, 328, 746 A.2d 761 (2000) ("[a]lthough some of the facts considered by the experts ... may not [be] substantively admissible ... the parties [are] not p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • 2000 Connecticut Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 75, 2001
    • Invalid date
    ...(2000) (en banc). 19 253 Conn. 611, 755 A.2d 180 (2000). 20 254 Conn. 472, 757 A.2d 578 (2000). 21 254 Conn. 290, 755 A.2d 868 (2000). 22 252 Conn. 318, 746 A.2d 761 (2000). 23 252 Conn. 641, 748 A.2d 834 (2000) (en banc). The authors represented Yale. 24 Doe thus distinguished Gupta v. New......
  • Significant Developments in Criminal Law: 1999-2000
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 74, 1999
    • Invalid date
    ...63 Delvalle, 250 Conn. at 473 n.10. This case was tried prior to the issuance of Schiappa. 64 249 Conn. 735, 738 A.2d 117 (1999). 65 252 Conn. 318, 746 A.2d 761 (2000). 66 Id. at 354 (Katz, J., dissenting). 67 251 Conn. 252, 741 A.2d 295 (1999), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 121 S. Ct. 65 (20......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT