State v. Culbreath

Citation340 Conn. 167,263 A.3d 350
Decision Date18 August 2021
Docket NumberSC 20276
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Jesse CULBREATH
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Julia K. Conlin, assigned counsel, with whom was Emily Graner Sexton, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Samantha L. Oden, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, former state's attorney, and Debra Collins, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Keller, Js.


A jury found the defendant, Jesse Culbreath, guilty of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55a, criminal violation of a protective order in violation of General Statutes § 53a-223 (a), criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 53a-217 (a) (4) (A), carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35 (a), and illegal possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 29-38 (a). The defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction on the ground that his federal and state constitutional rights were violated when the police continued to question him after he invoked his right to counsel pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona , 384 U.S. 436, 478–79, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), and, therefore, claims that his statements to the police improperly were admitted into evidence. The defendant further claims that the prosecutor committed improprieties during closing argument that deprived him of his due process right to a fair trial. We reverse in part the judgment of the trial court.

The record reflects the following facts and procedural history. On the evening of December 7, 2015, the defendant was selling marijuana on Judson Street in Hartford, when he encountered the victim, Richard Holloway, Jr. The defendant recognized the victim because they had been in an altercation when they were children. The victim began walking toward the defendant and "talking trash ...." A physical fight between the two men ensued, but nearby bystanders intervened and broke it up. Someone told the defendant "not to ... pay too much" attention to the victim because he was drunk.1 The victim quickly renewed the confrontation. He put on his jacket and "started coming back towards [the defendant] ...." The victim told the defendant "not to run" and that "he was going to get [him]." The defendant noticed "some fast hand movement" between the victim and "some other gentleman." Although the defendant did not see the victim with a weapon, he became worried that the victim might be armed. The defendant backed up, withdrew a revolver from his pocket, and shot the victim twice, once in the chest and once in the shoulder. The defendant fled the scene immediately after the shooting. The victim was transported to the hospital, where he died from the gunshot wounds inflicted by the defendant.

Later that night, a confidential informant, D,2 called in a tip that someone named Pops, who subsequently was identified as the defendant, was in possession of a firearm that may have been used in a homicide earlier that evening. D reported that Pops could be found in a particular motor vehicle in the north end of Hartford. Around midnight, Hartford police officers spotted the vehicle near Weston Street. The police stopped the vehicle and found D in the driver's seat, the defendant in the passenger seat, and the defendant's girlfriend, T, in the backseat. D consented to a search of the vehicle, during which the police found a revolver hidden in an ice cream box underneath the defendant's seat. The revolver contained four live rounds of ammunition and two empty shell casings. Upon further investigation, the police discovered that the defendant was in violation of a protective order, which prohibited him from contacting T and possessing firearms. The police arrested the defendant and transported him to the police station for further investigation.

At the police station, Detective Anthony Rykowski informed the defendant of his Miranda rights and asked him to sign a written waiver form.3 Prior to signing the form, the defendant asked, "but why does it say that I'm wavering ... um ... saying how I don't want the presence of an attorney or anything?" Rykowski responded: "What this means is, right now, if you sign this, it just means you are agreeing to talk to us. Okay? Right now. Um, you know, again, what each one of these is is what your rights are, okay? This is the important one here: number five, you can stop answering questions or you don't have to answer questions if you don't want to. It's just, you know, there's a lot of things we need to get through about what happened tonight, but we can't talk unless you agree to talk to us right now." The defendant asked if he had to sign the waiver form "if [he] was agreeing to talk to [Rykowski] right now ...." Rykowski responded: "Right, right. But you have to understand that, if you sign it, you can stop answering questions whenever you want. That's what number five means. You know what I mean? ... If you sign this, it doesn't mean you have to talk to me, you know? But it means we can talk." The defendant replied "[a]lright" and signed the waiver form. Rykowski began the interview, which lasted approximately eight hours.

At the beginning of the interview, the defendant denied possessing the revolver or being involved in the shooting on Judson Street. Instead, the defendant told Rykowski that, earlier in the evening, he had been shopping with T, who was pregnant with their child. The defendant continued to deny any involvement in the shooting incident over the next three hours.

Approximately three hours into the interview, the following exchange took place between the defendant and Rykowski:

"[The Defendant]: Is there anybody I can talk to?
"[Rykowski]: What do you mean?
"[The Defendant]: Like an attorney or something? Whatever the case may be. I know you guys gotta do your jobs.
"[Rykowski]: We do, yeah. Is that what you want?
"[The Defendant]: You know, I am not trying to add on more or anything.
"[Rykowski]: It doesn't add anything on, man. If that's what you want, that's fine, but we gotta shut this thing down if that's the case, you know. ... If you want an attorney, then we can't talk right now anymore.
"[The Defendant]: Then what?
"[Rykowski]: Then we let the cards fall the way they will, you know. Like I said, the evidence is gonna tell a story. It's gonna tell what happened .... It's not gonna tell me the why or the who or the what reason. ...
"[The Defendant]: [Indiscernible] know why you guys can't talk to me no more about what happened.
"[Rykowski]: I mean, I can ask your attorney to talk to you. He probably won't let me talk to you, you know.
"[The Defendant]: Why is that?
"[Rykowski]: It's that they have to make their money, do their thing. You know what I mean?
"[The Defendant]: I'm just trying to get this straight ....
"[Rykowski]: I understand, I understand. Do you want me to give you a few minutes?
"[The Defendant]: I guess.
"[Rykowski]: Well it's up to you man. If you want to keep talking, we'll keep talking. If you want an attorney, that's fine, we'll stop now.
"[The Defendant]: I'll take a few minutes."

Rykowski offered the defendant a drink and a cigarette, and then left the room. Approximately two minutes later, Rykowski's partner returned with a cigarette for the defendant. The defendant asked about T, who was being questioned in another interview room, and Rykowski's partner left to check on her. About twenty minutes later, Rykowski returned. The defendant again asked about T and what the police were "going to do with her ...." Rykowski stated: "[I]f she decides I wanna lie for you, then things can go one way .... If she does the right thing, they can go another way. ... It's what I've been trying to explain to you this whole time, you know. Only one thing's going to work, and it's the truth ...." Rykowski left the interview room again, and, when he returned, the interview resumed. Rykowski told the defendant that "the clean get cleaner, and the dirty get dirtier," and that they were at a point where the defendant had to "decide ... how [he] want[s] to move forward here ...." The defendant soon thereafter confessed to shooting the victim, but he explained that he had acted in self-defense because he was afraid the victim was going to pull a gun on him. The defendant's confession was memorialized in a written statement, which the defendant signed.

The defendant was charged in an amended, five count information with murder, criminal violation of a protective order, criminal possession of a firearm, carrying a pistol without a permit, and illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. At the defendant's jury trial, the state offered into evidence the video recording of the defendant's interview and his written statement. Defense counsel stated that he had "[n]o objection" to the offer, and the video recording and written statement were admitted into evidence as full exhibits. The state also adduced ballistics evidence matching the revolver found underneath the defendant's seat with one of the bullets recovered from the victim's body, as well as forensic evidence matching the defendant's DNA profile to the DNA found on the handle grip of the revolver.

Following the state's case-in-chief, the defendant took the stand and testified in his own defense. His testimony, which we review in greater detail subsequently in this opinion, was largely consistent with what he told the police when he confessed to shooting the victim. The jury found the defendant not guilty of the crime of murder but guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm in violation of § 53a-55a. Additionally, the jury found the defendant guilty of criminal violation of a protective order, criminal possession of a firearm,...

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  • State v. Morel-Vargas
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 10, 2022
    ...behalf as a matter of trial strategy—an affirmative determination of which would end our inquiry; see, e.g., State v. Culbreath , 340 Conn. 167, 179, 263 A.3d 350 (2021) ("defense counsel may waive certain tactical trial rights that are not personal to the defendant ... as part of trial str......
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    ...the presence or absence of corroborating evidence, and, of course, the overall strength of the state's case." State v. Culbreath , 340 Conn. 167, 192, 263 A.3d 350 (2021). "Most importantly, we must examine the impact of the evidence on the trier of fact and the result of the trial." (Inter......
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    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • October 25, 2022
    ...cannot make a knowing and intelligent waiver of rights affected by the later decision changing the law. See State v. Culbreath , 340 Conn. 167, 182–85, 263 A.3d 350 (2021) (involving state constitutional claim); see also id., 184–85 n.7, 263 A.3d 350. Because, in the present case, the defen......
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