State v. Ebron

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation292 Conn. 656,975 A.2d 17
Decision Date28 July 2009
Docket NumberNo. 17914.,17914.
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Brian EBRON.
975 A.2d 17
292 Conn. 656
STATE of Connecticut
Brian EBRON.
No. 17914.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued March 24, 2009.
Decided July 28, 2009.

[975 A.2d 20]

Mary Beattie Schairer, special public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Ronald G. Wetter, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Herbert E. Carlson, Jr., supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



292 Conn. 658

The defendant, Brian Ebron, appeals directly1 from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of intentional manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55a(a).2 On appeal, the defendant claims that the

292 Conn. 659

trial court improperly: (1) precluded him from questioning prospective jurors about their ability and willingness to follow instructions concerning the law of self-defense; (2) failed to give a jailhouse informant credibility instruction pursuant to State v. Patterson, 276 Conn. 452, 886 A.2d 777 (2005), with respect to one of the state's key witnesses; (3) instructed the jury about the retreat doctrine; and (4) failed to instruct the jury, sua sponte, on the doctrine of defense of premises. We disagree with these claims and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. Shortly after midnight on November 18, 2003, Tameika Moore went to visit a friend who lived in an apartment at 784-786 Capitol

975 A.2d 21

Avenue in Hartford. When she arrived at the apartment, Moore was surprised to find the victim, nineteen year old Shomari Greene, there visiting that same friend. Moore asked the victim to leave and proceeded to escort him down the stairs and out of the building. While passing through the first floor hallway of the building, Moore and the victim encountered Lawanne Harris (Lawanne), the defendant's girlfriend, who lived in an apartment off that hallway with the defendant, her mother, Yolanda Harris (Yolanda), and her four year old sister, Destiny. The victim and Lawanne argued in the hallway for approximately thirty minutes, and the defendant and Yolanda subsequently joined in the altercation after Lawanne summoned them to tell them about a person who was "disrespecting" her. Thereafter, the defendant and the victim proceeded to threaten each other, with the victim, who was visibly

292 Conn. 660

intoxicated,3 stating that he had "people, too" and would come back to "shoot up the place." The defendant then pointed a silver revolver at the victim and pulled the trigger, but the gun failed to fire. Moore and the victim then left the building.

Shortly thereafter, however, the victim walked back to the apartment building, and punched a hole in the glass adjacent to the building's front door in an attempt to open that door from the inside, because it had locked automatically behind him. After the victim reentered the front hallway, the defendant then shot the victim in the face with the revolver,4 causing his death.5 The defendant then fled from the scene by jumping out of the kitchen window of his apartment into the alley between buildings, pausing in the process to point his gun at Maria Ayala, a neighbor who had heard the initial altercation from her apartment, and then had heard the gunshot after leaving her apartment and seeing the victim reenter the building.6

Thereafter, the state charged the defendant with murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a). The

292 Conn. 661

defendant elected a jury trial, and a jury was selected before the trial court, Espinosa, J. The case was then tried to the jury before the trial court, Mullarkey, J. The jury rejected the defendant's claim of self-defense and returned a verdict finding him not guilty of murder, but guilty of the lesser included offense of intentional manslaughter with a firearm in violation of § 53a-55a(a). Judge Mullarkey then rendered a judgment of conviction in accordance with the jury's verdict and sentenced the defendant to thirty-two years imprisonment.

975 A.2d 22

This appeal followed. See footnote 1 of this opinion.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly: (1) limited his voir dire questioning of the prospective jurors about whether they could follow the court's instructions regarding self-defense; (2) failed to give an instruction pursuant to State v. Patterson, supra, 276 Conn. at 452, 886 A.2d 777, with respect to Moore's credibility; (3) instructed the jury about the retreat doctrine; and (4) failed to instruct the jury, sua sponte, on the doctrine of defense of premises. We address each claim in turn, and set forth additional facts and procedural history where necessary.


The defendant first claims that Judge Espinosa improperly precluded him from questioning the venirepersons about specific defenses during voir dire, and then further erred when she subsequently modified that ruling to permit him to ask them only whether it is ever justifiable to take a life. The defendant contends that this restriction was harmful to him because he needed to ensure "that the jurors who sat on the case were not automatically prejudiced against [his] defense." The defendant argues that the venirepersons' answers to the question asking whether it is ever justifiable to take a life demonstrated that the permissibility of taking another's life is a controversial topic and that "there is

292 Conn. 662

a strong likelihood that there were jurors on the final jury who would never follow the court's instructions on justification, and thus were automatically biased against [him]." (Emphasis in original.) In response, the state contends that the defendant's claim is unpreserved for appellate review because he never objected to any ruling made by the trial court with respect to the scope of voir dire and, indeed, "eagerly adopted the court's suggestion for future questioning." Alternatively, the state argues that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because the questions that it had permitted enabled the defendant to uncover any relevant prejudices that the prospective jurors may have harbored, and also complied with the well established restriction on voir dire questions that touch on the specific facts of cases. We agree with the state and conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the defendant to ask the venirepersons whether it was ever permissible to take a life, rather than permitting more specific questions about self-defense.7

The record reveals the following additional facts and procedural history. On the second day of jury selection, while questioning venireperson C.L.,8 counsel for

975 A.2d 23


292 Conn. 663

defendant asked: "If Her Honor gives you an instruction on a defense to murder could you follow an instruction on defense for murder?" The trial court and the prosecutor did not interject at this time. After C.L. was accepted as a juror, the trial court stated, "I think that I had mentioned at sidebar that we were not going to get into defenses. You asked the juror would he follow an instruction on defense to murder. There are many instructions I'm going to give that might or might not apply to this case. So that's not an appropriate question."9 Counsel for the defendant then advised the court that he had "tried to keep it very generic because ... the ... jurors are being questioned as to whether or not just the charge of murder would affect them. And [his] concern is that somebody may say that, no, they're ... not concerned about the charge, but they may not accept that there is a defense to murder. And ... from [his] knowledge of the case [he is] certain that Your Honor will be giving [a] defense charge on murder and so [he] tried to be very generic without saying self-defense or anything else." The trial court then ruled that counsel could "ask ... a more general question, such as, do you believe that it's ever justified to take a life"; (emphasis added); and defense counsel then indicated that he would do that in questioning future prospective jurors.

Thereafter, counsel for the defendant asked that question of nearly every remaining venireperson, and each one who was selected as a juror confirmed that there were circumstances under which taking the life of another would be acceptable, some, specifically G.S.,

292 Conn. 664

K.M., C.R., D.A., J.D. and C.D., stating so in more general terms,10 and others, specifically D.D., J.W.,

975 A.2d 24

P.C., R.P., J.J. and S.D., stating specifically that self-defense was

292 Conn. 665

an acceptable justification for taking a human life.11 Those venirepersons who gave contrary answers were excused from service.

292 Conn. 666

"The constitution of Connecticut is unique among state constitutions in providing an inviolate right in criminal cases to question each venireperson outside the presence of other members of the venire panel.... The purpose of such voir dire is to enable the court to determine whether the venireperson is qualified to serve on the jury and to assist the parties in the informed exercise of peremptory challenges." (Citations omitted.) State v. Thornton, 112 Conn.App. 694, 695, 963 A.2d 1099 (discussing Conn. Const., art. I,

975 A.2d 25

§§ 8 and 19), cert. denied, 291 Conn. 914, 969 A.2d 175 (2009).

"We have stated that, as a practical matter, the wide range of cases submitted to juries, along with the attendant impossibility of establishing a set pattern of voir dire questions, requires that the trial court be vested with broad discretion in determining the extent of the voir dire examination.... [I]n exercising its discretion, the court should grant such latitude as is reasonably necessary to accomplish the twofold purpose of voir dire: to permit the trial court to determine whether...

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