State v. James

Citation678 A.2d 1338,237 Conn. 390
Decision Date25 June 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15054,15054
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Anthony JAMES.

Elizabeth M. Inkster, Assistant Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, were Neal Cone and Theresa M. Dalton, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant (defendant).

Harry Weller, Assistant State's Attorney, with whom were Maureen Keegan, Assistant State's Attorney, and, on the brief, John A. Connelly, State's Attorney, for appellee (state).

NORCOTT, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Anthony James, was convicted after a jury trial of one count of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c 1 and one count of burglary in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-103. 2 He received a total effective sentence of fifty years imprisonment. 3 He appealed directly to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199(b). 4

On appeal, the defendant claims that: (1) the trial court improperly failed to suppress his written confession; (2) the admission of his written confession at trial violated his right to due process under the state constitution because the police had failed to record the confession electronically; and (3) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. We affirm the judgment of conviction.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the morning of January 13, 1993, the victim, eighty-one year old Pauline Grincunas, was found with head injuries, lying unconscious on the floor of her apartment in a multiunit house at 13-15 Green Street in Waterbury, by her landlord, Joseph Mariano. The victim was the only tenant occupying the house. A rear exterior door to the house, which led to a first floor apartment, and the front interior door to the victim's second floor apartment had been pried open. Several items in the apartment were out of their usual places, 5 a telephone had been disabled, and the bedroom in which the victim was found had been ransacked.

Waterbury police officers arrived shortly after the victim was discovered. The victim was taken by ambulance to Waterbury Hospital, where she died at 12:30 p.m. from blunt force trauma to the head. An autopsy was performed on January 14, 1993, from which the medical examiner determined that the victim had been struck seven times in the head with an object whose characteristics were consistent with a crowbar. 6 No fingerprints were recovered from the doorways of the house in which the victim had resided or from any items in her apartment. From marks left on the doorways, it was determined that a crowbar had been used to gain entry. No such tool was recovered.

Waterbury police canvassed the neighborhood around 13-15 Green Street. The defendant lived nearby at the corner of Green and John Streets. The police spoke with the defendant twice in connection with their investigation of the victim's death, once on January 13, and once on January 14. On both occasions, he gave the police a fictitious name. On January 14, he agreed to go to the police station to discuss the murder and some local burglaries. At the station, he gave the police a second fictitious name, denied his involvement in the crimes, and was driven home.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on January 15, shortly after the police had received information from an acquaintance of the defendant implicating him in the victim's murder, several police officers went to the defendant's apartment and the apartment of Michael Sebastian, a friend of the defendant, who lived next door to him, to question both of them. Both the defendant and Sebastian were brought to the police station for questioning. After several hours, the defendant signed a confession that stated that during the evening of January 12, 1993, he and Sebastian had broken into the house at 13-15 Green Street, which he had believed to be unoccupied, and that Sebastian had come upon the victim and had struck her with a crowbar. The confession included several accurate details of the crime. The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with felony murder and burglary.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his written confession, claiming that it was the fruit of an illegal seizure at his apartment, and that he had not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his Miranda 7 rights. He also claimed that his confession was not voluntary and that the state must establish voluntariness beyond a reasonable doubt in order for his confession to be admissible under the state constitution. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion, finding that the defendant had not been seized by police at his apartment, but had accompanied them to the police station voluntarily. The trial court further found that the state had established, both by a preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant properly had been advised of and validly had waived his Miranda rights, and that the confession was voluntary.

At trial, the written confession, redacted in part, was read to the jury. The defendant testified in his own defense. He claimed that he had not been involved in the break-in and murder and that he had never confessed to those crimes, but had signed a completed typewritten confession after several hours of interrogation because the police had threatened to arrest his fiancee and to remove her children, one of whom was his biological child, from their home. The jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Thereafter, the trial court denied the defendant's motions for acquittal 8 and for a new trial, 9 and imposed a total effective sentence of fifty years imprisonment. See footnote 3. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be discussed as they become relevant in the context of the defendant's specific claims.

I

The defendant first claims that the trial court improperly failed to suppress his confession on a number of grounds. Specifically, he claims that the trial court improperly concluded that: (1) he had not been illegally seized at his apartment on the morning of January 15, 1993; 10 (2) the state had established that he had knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights; 11 and (3) the state had established that his confession was voluntary. The defendant also claims that, under the state constitution, the state was required to prove voluntariness beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the confession to be admissible at trial. 12

Before turning to the defendant's claims, we first review the evidence presented to the trial court on these issues. That evidence was substantially the same at the suppression hearing and at the trial. The police officers who went to the defendant's apartment and subsequently questioned him at the station testified to the following. At 1:30 a.m. on January 15, 1993, Sergeant Neil O'Leary, Sergeant Robert Henderson, 13 Detective Phillip Distasio and Detective William Cassada went to the defendant's apartment. They were not in uniform. Their purpose was to question the defendant concerning the victim's murder and a number of other burglaries, in light of new information they had received about those crimes from Joseph Fields. Fields was an acquaintance of the defendant, who had given a statement to the police implicating the defendant only one-half hour earlier. 14 The officers considered the defendant to be a suspect in the victim's murder at that time.

O'Leary and Henderson proceeded to the front door of the defendant's second floor apartment and Distasio and Cassada were stationed at the back door. According to the officers, this procedure was "routine," undertaken for safety reasons, and to prevent anyone from leaving the apartment without at least being identified. Distasio and Cassada testified that if the defendant had attempted to exit the apartment through the back door, they would have detained him at least long enough for O'Leary to speak to him, but that they had not intended to arrest him.

O'Leary knocked on the front door, which was answered by Carolyn Fraser, the defendant's fiancee. O'Leary asked Fraser if he could speak to "Tony" and she agreed and invited them into the apartment. Fraser was pleasant, cooperative and did not appear intimidated or frightened. O'Leary also asked Fraser if she would admit the officers at the back door. She agreed and admitted Distasio and Cassada into the kitchen. During this time, the defendant came into the living room from the bedroom. O'Leary identified himself, told the defendant that he was investigating the victim's murder and several burglaries, and asked the defendant if he would come to the station to discuss those crimes. O'Leary did not tell the defendant that he was free to decline. The defendant was calm and cooperative, and agreed to go to the station. He did not object or ask to postpone the interview until the morning. He then went into his bedroom, which did not have a door, to dress; he was not accompanied into the bedroom, but was observed by Henderson, who stood near the doorway. He was not searched. O'Leary, Henderson and the defendant then left the apartment together and drove to the station in a four-door unmarked police car, which did not have a cage. The defendant rode alone in the backseat and, while in the car, did not ask to return home. At no time was he handcuffed or restrained in any way, nor did any of the officers display a weapon. Distasio and Cassada, with Fraser's permission, remained at the apartment to await a possible search warrant.

When the defendant arrived at the police station, he was placed in a small room that ordinarily was used as an office. Sebastian was brought into the station at about the same time and was placed in another room in the same area. Shortly thereafter, before any questioning took place, O'Leary advised the defendant of his Miranda rights in the presence of Henderson and another detective, ...

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