State v. James A.

Decision Date19 December 2022
Docket NumberSC 20453
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. JAMES A.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Lisa J. Steele, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Rocco A. Chiarenza, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Amy L. Sedensky and Don E. Therkildsen, Jr., senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

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


The primary issue before us in this appeal is whether the trial court properly joined for trial, pursuant to Practice Book § 41-19,1 sexual assault, risk of injury to a child, and strangulation charges with threatening and disorderly conduct charges. The defendant, James A., appeals2 from the judgments of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of threatening in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-62 (a) (2) (A), three counts of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2), one count of sexual assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-71 (a) (1), three counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), one count of strangulation in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-64aa (a) (1) (B), and one count of disorderly conduct in violation of General Statutes § 53a-182 (a) (1). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion when it (1) joined for trial his sexual assault, risk of injury to a child, and strangulation charges with his threatening and disorderly conduct charges, and (2) denied his request, as a remedy for the disclosure of his prior incarceration by one of the state's witnesses, that he be allowed to testify about the nonsexual nature of his prior felony convictions without opening the door to being asked on cross-examination about the nature of those convictions. We reject the defendant's claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant began a relationship with D some-time around 2011. D was the mother of S, who was born in 1996, J, who was born in 2003, L, who was born in 2006, and V, who was born in 2016. In 2014, the defendant, D, J, and L moved into a basement apartment in Naugatuck. The apartment was small, and they shared it with D's brother, his girlfriend, and their three children. The five children shared one bedroom. J testified that the first time the defendant sexually assaulted her was in this apartment during the summer before she entered the sixth grade. While the adults were outside smoking and the other children were in a different room, the defendant came into the room where J was reading to kiss her goodnight. He then took down her blanket, pulled down her pajama pants and underwear, and put his tongue in her vagina.

Later that year, the defendant purchased a five bedroom home in Naugatuck, into which he moved with D, S, J, L, and D's father, M. J testified about three incidents of sexual abuse that occurred at the Naugatuck home. During the first incident, J was watching a movie with L and the defendant, when he asked her to come lie down with him. At this point, J's buttocks were against the defendant's penis. The defendant put a blanket over J and himself and then put his hand in J's pants and inserted his finger into her vagina. J testified that she felt the defendant's penis become erect during the incident. J asked the defendant to stop in a whispered tone so that L, who was also on the couch, would not see or hear what was happening.

During the second incident, the defendant and J were sitting in the dining room of the house. The defendant pulled J onto him and started kissing her neck. When J stood up, the defendant stood up as well, slid his hand into her underwear, and digitally penetrated her vagina while holding her arms down and grabbing her chest. After a couple of minutes passed, J pushed the defendant off and ran to a nearby cul-de-sac to meet a friend. Several hours later, J returned home, and the defendant apologized. He also told J not to tell D what had happened "because he bought the house for [them] and ... fed [them] and ... made [her] mom happy." J did not tell D what had happened because she was afraid of the defendant.

During the third incident, the defendant entered J's room while she was video chatting with a friend on her computer. The defendant pulled down J's pants and licked her anus. J stopped her conversation and flipped her computer upward to prevent her friend from seeing what the defendant was doing. After the defendant left the room, J locked her door and did not mention the incident to her friend. At some point, J disclosed to S the sexual abuse by the defendant.

In addition to the sexual abuse, J also testified that the defendant had strangled her to the point of unconsciousness on multiple occasions. On one occasion, the defendant, without warning, started choking her with L present in the room. When L noticed that J could not breathe, L jumped on the defendant's back, but J still lost consciousness temporarily. When J regained consciousness, the defendant shook her and said: "[D]on't tell your mom. It was an accident. I didn't know you were going to pass out."

The defendant also sexually assaulted L. On one occasion, when L was in the fourth or fifth grade, the defendant entered her bedroom where she was playing with dolls. He attempted to close the door but was unable to do so because its hinge was broken. The defendant then pulled L's pants and underwear down to her knees and put his tongue on her vagina. At this point, D entered the room, saw the defendant with his face near L's naked buttocks, and began to hit and scream at the defendant. It appeared to D that the defendant was "blowing farts" in L's buttocks. L testified that she knew the defendant's actions were "inappropriate," but she "was scared of him."

On August 4, 2018, the defendant and D were married and hosted a wedding after-party at the Naugatuck home. Shortly after midnight, the defendant and D had an altercation. S, upset by the altercation, approached the defendant, accused him of touching J inappropriately, and called him a "pedophile son of a bitch." S testified that the defendant responded to her comment with "[e]xtreme anger and extreme violence." The defendant charged at S after stating: "If any charges are brought against me, I will cut your fucking head off ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) The defendant also threatened S's father, A, D's sister, K, M, and D. While making these threats, the defendant grappled with A, who had stepped in to protect S from the defendant, smashed several framed pictures that were on the wall in the corridor next to his bedroom, and punched a hole in the wall. The defendant also flipped over a heavy wooden dining room table, shattering the glasses that had been on it and the chandelier hanging above it. While engaged in this conduct, the defendant screamed at the wedding guests, who were still present in the house, to "[g]et the fuck" out. (Internal quotation marks omitted.) J, who was in her bedroom with a friend, heard S and the defendant screaming and the flipping of the table. The ruckus was so loud that it was heard by neighbors, who reported it to the police.

Immediately after the defendant made the threats against S and the others, S rushed to J's bedroom and informed her that she had told the defendant about J's disclosures of sexual abuse. In response, J was "terrified, hysterical [and] crying," and stated, "[h]e's going to kill me. I told on him." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) At some point, both J and L left the house and were brought to A's van. As J approached the van, she saw the defendant, panicked, and ran back to her bedroom, where she hid in a closet. Her uncles found her there and brought her to the van a second time. At that point, the defendant, who had been "yelling at people" in the driveway, ordered L to get out of the van. She refused.

The police eventually arrived in response to the noise complaint and spoke to several people, including M, who told them that the defendant ran off into the woods when they arrived. After a short time, the police left, and A, K, J, L, and S left in the van and went to A's house.

S, J, and L remained at A's house the day after the wedding. M, D, and V arrived at some point, and J told D at that time about the defendant's sexual abuse of her. A notified the Naugatuck police about the sexual abuse allegations, and they came to the house to investigate. The police then made unsuccessful attempts to locate the defendant. Believing that the defendant would come to the house to carry out his threats, the adults there made a plan that M and A would arm themselves and stay outside, and, if the defendant showed up, they would give a signal, and S, D, and K would "grab the children and ... go into the basement."

At approximately 11 p.m., A observed a car slowly drive down his secluded, dead-end street and stop in the middle of the road. A walked down the driveway to investigate, and the car then began to move toward the dead end and turned around. As A walked back up the driveway, he saw the defendant emerge from behind a bush, walk onto the front porch of the house, and peer into the living room, where J, L, and V were sleeping on the couch. A drew a handgun and stated, "James is that you?" (Internal quotation marks omitted.) This caused M to walk toward the front of the house. The defendant acknowledged his identity, and A ordered him to leave and shouted the secret word to trigger everyone inside the house to get to the basement and to call the police. The children were "hysterical" and "crying," and cowered under a utility sink while covering their ears. J called the police.


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  • Madera v. Comm'r of Corr.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • September 12, 2023
    ... ... (petitioner) ...           Nancy ... L. Chupak, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, ... on the brief, were Maureen Piatt, state's attorney, and ... Eva Lenczewski, former senior assistant state's ... of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Compare ... State v. James A., 345 Conn. 599, 619,286 A.3d 855 ... (2022) ("[t]he test for determining whether evidence is ... unduly prejudicial is not whether it ... ...

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