State v. DeJesus

Decision Date04 September 1984
Citation194 Conn. 376,481 A.2d 1277
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Oscar Martinez DeJESUS.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Sydney T. Schulman, Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was William P. Lane, Legal Asst., for appellant (defendant).

David S. Shepack, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John M. Bailey, State's Atty., and Warren Maxwell and Carl J. Schuman, Asst. State's Attys., for appellee (State).


ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of two counts of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55(a). On appeal, he claims that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence three black and white photographs of the victims taken at the scene of the crime and in its charge to the jury on the issue of self-defense. 1

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts: The defendant resided at 209 Barbour Street, Hartford. The victims, Carmen Martinez and Jorge L. (Luis) Martinez, Sr., 2 lived at the rear of 209 Barbour Street. The defendant was the brother of Luis Martinez, and Carmen Martinez was Luis' wife. Over the years, recurrent problems had arisen between the defendant and his brother.

On July 17, 1980, the defendant returned home from work at about 4 p.m. and parked his pickup truck on the street. Later, at approximately 9 p.m., he moved the truck off the street into the parking area behind 209 Barbour Street. An argument, instigated by Luis, then ensued between him and the defendant. At that point, Luis and Carmen Martinez were sitting on their second floor porch. During their argument, the defendant, by his own admission, challenged Luis to a fight. Luis, armed with a machete, descended the stairs to the parking area where he struck the defendant's left arm with the machete. The defendant retreated to the fence located at the south side of the parking lot, where he picked up an iron pipe. 3 By this time, Carmen Martinez, also armed with a machete, had descended to the parking area. Using the pipe as a weapon, the defendant first struck a blow to the head of Luis, who dropped his machete and fell to the ground. Then Carmen charged the defendant who, in response, also struck her on the head with the pipe. Carmen fell to the pavement alongside her husband. According to the opinion testimony of the state's chief medical examiner, the two victims were probably not killed by that first blow inflicted on each of them. The first blow to each of the victims inflicted by the defendant caused them to drop their machetes and fall to the ground. The defendant continued to strike the victims with alternating blows of the pipe for approximately three to five minutes. Both victims died as a result of the injuries received from the blows. 4

When a police officer arrived at the scene, the defendant, holding the pipe over his head, walked down the driveway and surrendered to the officer. Later that evening, the defendant provided a voluntary statement to the Hartford police in which he admitted striking the victims repeatedly with the pipe. The defendant was indicted on two counts of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a) and (c). He claimed the defenses of extreme emotional disturbance and self-defense. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter in the first degree due to extreme emotional disturbance on both counts. The defendant received a total effective sentence of not less than fifteen years nor more than thirty years.


The defendant first claims that the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs into evidence over his objection. The exhibits in question were three eight inch by ten inch black and white photographs depicting the victims as they were found at the scene on the night of July 17. 5 One photograph depicts primarily the injuries suffered by the female victim who appears in the foreground of the photograph. Another photograph shows the injuries to the female victim from a different angle and it also shows some of the injuries to the male victim's back. The third photograph shows the male victim in the foreground and details the injuries to his head and back. Visible in all three photographs is a machete under the right leg of the male victim.

The defendant contends that any relevance of these photographs was outweighed by their prejudicial effect. The photographs, according to the defendant, were gruesome, inflammatory, and highly prejudicial in nature. The defendant also claims that since he offered to admit "every fact" which could be proved by their admission, they were cumulative in nature and cannot be said to serve any "essential evidential value" which must be demonstrated for their admission into evidence.

Photographs of a victim taken at the scene of a homicide are not per se inadmissible. The rule in this state on the admissibility of photographic evidence has been well established: " 'The great weight of authority is that photographs, even though gruesome, are admissible in evidence when otherwise properly admitted if they have a reasonable tendency to prove or disprove a material fact in issue or shed some light upon some material inquiry. Note, 73 A.L.R.2d 769, 787. A photograph, the tendency of which may be to prejudice the jury, may be admitted in evidence if, in the sound discretion of the court, its value as evidence outweighs its possible prejudicial effect. Thibodeau v. Connecticut Co., 139 Conn. 9, 14, 89 A.2d 223 [1952]'; State v. LaBreck, 159 Conn. 346, 351, 269 A.2d 74 (1970); State v. Smith, 174 Conn. 118, 122, 384 A.2d 347 (1977)." State v. Haskins, 188 Conn. 432, 452-53, 450 A.2d 828 (1982); see State v. Marshall, 166 Conn. 593, 602, 353 A.2d 756 (1974). We have never adopted a requirement that potentially inflammatory photographic evidence must be found to be absolutely essential to the proof of the prosecution's case. See, e.g., State v. Haskins, supra; State v. Bember, 183 Conn. 394, 407-408, 439 A.2d 387 (1981). "[T]he test for determining the admissibility of the challenged evidence is relevancy and not necessity. State v. Piskorski, 177 Conn. 677, 701, 419 A.2d 866, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 935, 100 S.Ct. 283, 62 L.Ed.2d 194 (1979)." State v. Haskins, supra, 188 Conn. 453, 450 A.2d 828. 6 Upon a defendant's objection, the prosecution must show that the photographic evidence offered is relevant to its case. The trial court can then admit the evidence as long as its probative value outweighs any prejudicial effect. 7 "The trial court exercises a broad discretion in admitting such evidence, and its determination will not be disturbed on appeal unless a clear abuse of that discretion is shown. State v. Piskorski, 177 Conn. 677, 700-701, 419 A.2d 866, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 935, 100 S.Ct. 283, 62 L.Ed.2d 194 (1979); State v. Smith, [174 Conn. 118, 123, 384 A.2d 347 (1977) ]." State v. Bember, supra, 183 Conn. 408, 439 A.2d 387. We find no such abuse of discretion in this case.

The defendant's objection that the probative value of the photographs was outweighed by their prejudicial impact was fully argued before the trial court. In exercising its discretion, the trial court found that the photographs were relevant and material to the intent element of the murder charges, to the corroboration of testimony of other prosecution witnesses, and to the amount of force exerted by the defendant in relation to his assertion of a self-defense claim. The trial court never specifically found that the photographs in question were in fact gruesome or inflammatory. Implicit in the court's admission of these exhibits was a finding that their value as evidence outweighed any prejudicial effect they might have had on the jury.

We have examined the three photographs of the victims and agree with the trial court that they were relevant to the issues presented in the case. The defendant was charged with two counts of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a) and (c). As the trial court properly observed, the photographs were relevant and probative on the issue of intent, an element of the murder charges on which the state had the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. General Statutes § 53a-54a(a); see, e.g., State v. D'Antuono, 186 Conn. 414, 422, 441 A.2d 846 (1982). "A person acts 'intentionally' with respect to a result or to conduct described by a statute defining an offense when his conscious objective is to cause such result or to engage in such conduct ...." General Statutes § 53a-3(11). Accordingly, we have recognized that "intent" is ordinarily proven through circumstantial evidence: " 'Intent is a mental process which ordinarily can be proven only by circumstantial evidence. An intent to cause death may be inferred from circumstantial evidence such as the type of weapon used, the manner in which it was used, the type of wound inflicted and the events leading to and immediately following the death.' State v. Zdanis, [182 Conn. 388, 396, 438 A.2d 696 (1980) ]; see, e.g., State v. Holley, [174 Conn. 22, 26, 381 A.2d 539 (1977) ] State v. Bzdyra, 165 Conn. 400, 404-405, 334 A.2d 917 (1973); State v. Litman, 106 Conn. 345, 352-53, 138 A. 132 (1927). These inferences are necessary because the direct evidence of the accused's state of mind is rarely available. See State v. Rodriguez, 180 Conn. 382, 404, 429 A.2d 919 (1980); State v. Bzdyra, supra [165 Conn.] 403 ." State v. D'Antuono, supra, 186 Conn. 423, 441 A.2d 846.

Here, the photographic evidence was relevant also to the cause and manner of the death of the two victims. These photographs served to illustrate and corroborate the testimony of the chief medical examiner and other witnesses as to the nature, severity and length of time force was inflicted upon the victims. State v. LaBreck, 159 Conn. 346, 351, 269 A.2d 74 (1970). The extent of the...

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71 cases
  • State v. Doehrer
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 29, 1986
    ... ... We disagree with both contentions ...         In State v. DeJesus, 194 Conn. 376, 481 A.2d 1277 (1984), we discussed extensively the rules pertaining to the admissibility of photographic evidence. We held that photographic evidence is admissible where the photograph has "a reasonable tendency to prove or disprove a material fact in issue or shed some light upon ... ...
  • State v. Shabazz
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    ...or about to inflict great bodily harm, and (2) that deadly physical force is necessary to repel such attack. State v. DeJesus, 194 Conn. 376, 389 n.13, 481 A.2d 1277 (1984); see also State v. Carter, 232 Conn. 537, 546, 656 A.2d 657 (1995)." (Emphasis in original.) State v. Prioleau, supra,......
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    ... ... Evidence is admissible if it has " 'a reasonable tendency to prove or disprove a material fact in issue or shed some light upon some material inquiry. Note, 73 A.L.R.2d 769, 787.' State v. DeJesus, [194 Conn. 376, 381, 481 A.2d 1277 (1984) ]." State v. Doehrer, 200 Conn. 642, 649, 513 A.2d 58 (1986). There is no requirement that potentially inflammatory evidence be absolutely essential to the state's case and otherwise unobtainable in order that it be admissible; rather, " 'the test for ... ...
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1 books & journal articles
  • Uncharged - Misconduct Evidence and the Issue of Intent: Limiting the Need for Admissibility
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 67, 1992
    • Invalid date
    ...71,81,532 N.Y.S. 2d 269,275 (2d Dep't.), appeal denied, 73 N.Y.2d 855, 534 N.E.2d 340, 537 N.Y.S.2d 502 (1988). 115 State v. DeJesus, 194 Conn. 376,386,481 A.2d 1277,1283 (1984); State v. Florez, 777 P. 452, 456 Utah 1989); Glover v. Commonwealth, 3 Va. App. 152, 161-62, 348 S.E., 441 (1986......

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