State v. Hinton

Decision Date24 August 1993
Docket NumberNo. 14313,14313
Citation227 Conn. 301,630 A.2d 593
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Ronnie HINTON.

James J. Ruane, Sp. Public Defender, with whom was Michael A. Fitzpatrick, Sp. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Timothy J. Sugrue, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John M. Bailey, Chief State's Atty., and Rosita M. Creamer, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


KATZ, Associate Justice.

A jury convicted the defendant, Ronnie Hinton, of three counts of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a; 1 one count of capital felony in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54b; 2 one count of attempted murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 and 53a-54a; 3 and one count of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 53a-59. 4 The defendant appeals to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199 5 from the judgment of the trial court sentencing him to a term of life imprisonment without possibility of release. 6 He claims that the court improperly: (1) instructed the jury concerning the doctrine of transferred intent; (2) accepted inconsistent jury verdicts; and (3) permitted the prosecutor to use peremptory challenges to strike two African-American venirepersons from the jury panel. 7 We agree with the defendant that the trial court improperly accepted inconsistent jury verdicts and therefore reverse the convictions for attempted murder and assault in the first degree. We find the defendant's other claims unpersuasive, however, and therefore affirm the capital felony and three murder convictions.

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. On October 7, 1989, Antoine Smith and Juan Picot were at the home of Kiki, a girl they knew in Hartford. The defendant came by the house, shook his head at Smith and Picot, and left. He then returned with a group of approximately twelve others who were armed with sticks, bats and rocks. A scuffle ensued between the defendant's group and Smith, Picot, Kiki and her family.

On October 13, Sheldon Webb and a group of his friends were in the vicinity of the M & M Diner in Hartford. When the defendant, who was also in the vicinity, saw Webb, he mistook him for someone else, jumped off his bicycle, pulled a sawed-off shotgun from his jacket and pointed it at Webb. When the defendant recognized Webb, he put the gun back in his jacket, and told Webb that he had mistaken him for one of several youths who had "jumped" him a week ago. At this point, Bennie Fulse who was driving past, stopped and spoke with the defendant. The defendant told Fulse he was having a "beef" with a group of youths and asked Fulse if he would allow him to do a drive-by shooting from his car. Fulse declined and drove away.

Webb and his friends walked down the street with the defendant following them. Shortly thereafter, while on Martin Street in Hartford, the Webb group encountered a larger group of ten to fifteen males, including Picot, approaching from the opposite direction. At some point during this encounter, the defendant left the Webb group on the sidewalk and moved into the street. A member of the larger group, a young man nicknamed "Cat," also went into the street waving either a gun or a stick in the air and said, "Remember this?" to the defendant. The defendant responded, "Remember this," and took a sawed-off shotgun out of his jacket. The defendant fired the shotgun once into the group of males who had accompanied "Cat." The defendant then fled to his home.

As a result of the shooting, three of the young men in the "Cat" group were killed and another was seriously injured. The evidence adduced at trial showed that the shotgun had been loaded with "triple ought" buckshot, the largest commercially manufactured shot. A shell loaded with triple ought buckshot typically contains eight individual pellets. One pellet struck Kevin Carter in the forehead and entered his brain, killing him. Another struck James Parham in the abdomen, then traveled through his body and severed his aorta, causing him to bleed to death. Three pellets fatally struck Picot--one in the forehead, one in the right flank and another in the groin. In addition, Jason Diaz was seriously wounded by a pellet that penetrated his abdomen. He underwent surgery twice and lost segments of both his colon and large intestine as a result of the shooting.

The defendant did not testify at trial. Through other evidence, he presented a theory of self-defense claiming that the ten to fifteen young men accompanying "Cat" were members of a gang that was "out to get him." The defendant told the police that he had pulled the shotgun out in self-defense and had fired at the feet of the group in order to scare its members. The jury convicted the defendant on all counts.


We first consider the defendant's claim that the trial court improperly instructed the jury concerning the doctrine of transferred intent 8 with regard to the three murder counts. After defining the intent necessary to constitute murder, the trial court instructed the jury that "as long [as] the defendant has an intent to cause the death of someone and by his [action] causes the death of another, it is sufficient" to establish murder. 9 The defendant claims that this instruction was improper because: (1) intent to kill may not be transferred to an unintended victim if the intended victim is also killed; and (2) even if the intended victim is not killed, intent may not be transferred to more than one unintended victim. Under each of these theories, if the defendant intended to kill only one person, then there would be only one murder regardless of how many people were actually killed. 10 The defendant claims that because the court's transferred intent instruction improperly allowed the jury to find him guilty of all three murders even if there had been only one intended victim, all three intentional murder convictions must be reversed. 11 We disagree.

We note as a preliminary matter that the defendant did not object to the transferred intent instruction at trial. He nevertheless maintains that his claim is reviewable as an exceptional circumstance pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 238-42, 567 A.2d 823 (1989). Under Golding, a defendant may prevail on a claim not preserved at trial only if four conditions are met: "(1) the record is adequate to review the alleged claim of error; (2) the claim is of constitutional magnitude alleging the violation of a fundamental right; (3) the alleged constitutional violation clearly exists and clearly deprived the defendant of a fair trial; and (4) if subject to harmless error analysis, the state has failed to demonstrate harmlessness of the alleged constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt." Id., at 239-40, 567 A.2d 823.

The defendant has satisfied the first two prongs of Golding. First, the record is adequate to review this claim. Second, "[a]n accused has a fundamental right, protected by the due process clauses of the federal and Connecticut constitutions, to be acquitted unless proven guilty of each element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Williams, 202 Conn. 349, 363, 521 A.2d 150 (1987). Although we generally do not consider a claim regarding the giving of an improper instruction or the failure to give a proper instruction unless the claim is properly preserved at trial; id., at 362, 521 A.2d 150; "[t]his court has consistently held that a claim that the judge improperly instructed the jury on an element of an offense is appealable even if not raised at trial." Id., at 363, 521 A.2d 150; see State v. Allen, 216 Conn. 367, 383, 579 A.2d 1066 (1990) (improper jury instruction on an essential element of the crime violates the defendant's due process rights); State v. Kurvin, 186 Conn. 555, 558, 442 A.2d 1327 (1982) (a claim that implicates the defendant's right to be properly charged on all essential elements of the crime charged is reviewable even if unpreserved). Because the defendant's claim concerns intent, which is an essential element of the crime of murder, he has satisfied Golding's second prong. Though the defendant's claim is reviewable, it fails under the third prong of Golding because we conclude that the trial court's instruction was proper. 12 Section 53a-54a (a) 13 provides that "[a] person is guilty of murder when, with intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person...." (Emphasis added.) We agree with the state that the statute on its face allows transferred intent for the crime of murder without limitation as to the number of people killed. The clear meaning of the statute leads to the result that, when a person engages in conduct with the intent to kill someone, there can be a separate count of murder for every person actually killed by the conduct.

The defendant argues, however, that the language of the statute, "causes the death of such person or of a third person," supports his position. He claims that because the singular "third person" is used instead of the plural "third persons," the statute does not apply if more than one unintended victim is killed. Under the defendant's interpretation of the statute, there could be only one murder, no matter how many unintended victims were killed. He also claims that because "or" is used, the statute does not apply where the intended victim and a third person are killed. Under this interpretation of § 53a-54a, only the death of the intended victim would be murder. We disagree.

Contrary to the defendant's interpretations of the statute, the use of the singular "third person" and the disjunctive "or" warrants that each death be treated as a separate murder under the statute. If the plural "third persons" were used,...

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151 cases
  • State v. King
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1999
    ...intentional discrimination is afforded great deference and will not be disturbed unless it is clearly erroneous. State v. Hinton, [227 Conn. 301, 323-24, 630 A.2d 593 (1993)]; see State v. Gonzalez, supra, 406-407. A finding of fact is clearly erroneous when there is no evidence in the reco......
  • State v. Hodge
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
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    ...Equal Protection Clause17 forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race .... State v. Hinton, 227 Conn. 301, 323, 630 A.2d 593 (1993); State v. Smith, 222 Conn. 1, 10-11, 608 A.2d 63, cert. denied, 506 U.S. 942, 113 S. Ct. 383, 121 L. Ed. 2d 293 (1992)......
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    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2015
    ...of the jury's deliberations or open the door to interminable speculation." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Hinton, 227 Conn. 301, 313, 630 A.2d 593 (1993). Our Supreme Court has further reasoned that inconsistent verdicts of this type "should not necessarily be interpreted as a......
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    ...inconsistent convictions reviewed pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239–40, 567 A.2d 823 [1989] ); State v. Hinton, 227 Conn. 301, 313, 630 A.2d 593 (1993) (when defendant neither objected to jury instructions on offenses with mutually exclusive states of mind nor objected to tri......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Developments in Connecticut Criminal Law: 1992-1993
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 68, 1993
    • Invalid date
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