State v. Johnson

Decision Date02 May 2000
Citation751 A.2d 298,253 Conn. 1
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Richard Emanuel, with whom were Kent Drager, senior assistant public defender, and, on the brief, Joseph G. Bruckmann, public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Lori Welch-Rubin, special public defender, for the appellant (defendant) on the proportionality review.

Marjorie Allen Dauster, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Mark S. Solak, state's attorney, Susan C. Marks, supervisory assistant state's attorney, Michael E. O'Hare, assistant state's attorney, Toni M. Smith-Rosario, deputy assistant state's attorney, and Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Timothy J. Sugrue, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state) on the proportionality review.

McDonald, C. J., and Borden, Katz, Palmer, Callahan, Foti and Schaller, Js.

Katz, J.


The defendant, Terry D. Johnson, was charged with: one count of murder and felony murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a and 53a-54c;1 one count of capital felony murder of a member of the division of state police, while the officer was acting within the scope of his duties, in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-54b (1)2 and §§ 53a-54a (a) and (c) and 53a-54c; one count of burglary in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-101 (a) (1) and (2);3 one count of larceny in the third degree for the taking of property with a value in excess of one thousand dollars in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-119 and 53a-124 (a) (2);4 and twenty counts of stealing a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-212,5 arising out of the shooting death of Connecticut State Trooper Russell Bagshaw during the commission of a burglary of a sporting goods store in North Windham.

The defendant pleaded guilty to murder/felony murder, capital felony and burglary, before a three judge panel, Corrigan, Spada and Potter, Js. (trial court), admitting to the following facts. During the early morning hours of June 5, 1991, the defendant and his brother, Duane Johnson, broke into the Land and Sea Sports Center (Land and Sea) in North Windham. The defendant entered the building through a small window and removed several weapons and boxes of ammunition from the Land and Sea by passing them through the window to Duane. The defendant loaded a semiautomatic nine millimeter pistol and passed that weapon through the window to Duane as well. During the course of the break-in, Bagshaw, who was on routine patrol in the vicinity, drove his cruiser into the parking lot of the Land and Sea. Duane saw Bagshaw's cruiser approaching and warned the defendant. The defendant exited the Land and Sea through the window by which he had entered. The defendant, armed with the semiautomatic nine millimeter pistol, then proceeded to wait near the building. As Bagshaw's cruiser approached the Land and Sea, the defendant began shooting at the cruiser. One of the bullets fired by the defendant hit Bagshaw, fatally wounding him. The defendant and Duane then fled the scene.

After the defendant's guilty plea, a separate sentencing hearing was conducted pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-46a 6 by the trial court. At the conclusion of the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury found an aggravating factor and no mitigating factor. In accordance with the jury's findings, the trial court rendered a judgment of guilty of capital felony and imposed the death penalty on the defendant. The defendant appealed to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199 (b) and General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-46b.7 We affirm the judgment of conviction on all counts. Because we conclude, however, that there was insufficient evidence of the existence of an aggravating factor, we reverse the judgment with respect to the imposition of the death penalty and remand the case with direction to impose a life sentence without the possibility of release.

The defendant raises twenty-eight issues on appeal. Because we reverse the judgment imposing the death penalty, we need decide only five of those issues: three addressed to the defendant's guilty plea, one challenging the sufficiency of the evidence of the aggravating factor and one contesting the propriety of the probable cause hearing.8


We first address the defendant's claim that the trial court improperly denied his motions for a competency examination, pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 54-56d,9 thereby depriving him of his right to due process of law under the United States and Connecticut constitutions.10 Although we agree that the trial court applied an incorrect evidentiary standard to the defendant's requests for a competency hearing, we conclude that any impropriety did not deprive the defendant of his due process rights. Accordingly, the failure to order a competency hearing was not harmful.

The record reveals the following relevant facts. The guilt phase of the defendant's trial commenced on December 10, 1992, before the trial court. At the start of the proceedings, defense counsel moved for a competency examination of the defendant, pursuant to § 54-56d (c), citing, as the basis of the motion, a letter received from David M. Mantell, a clinical psychologist hired by the defense, which raised concerns about the defendant's mental competence. The relevant portions of Mantell's December 9, 1992 letter provided: "During my first examination of [the defendant] on [November 25, 1992] but particularly during [further examination] this morning and this afternoon, I have found symptomatic evidence of psychotic thought process which, if validated, may severely impact on [his] present legal competence." Defense counsel argued that these concerns required the trial court to halt the guilt phase of the proceedings until completion of a competency examination and determination.

The trial court denied the defendant's motion for a competency examination, citing the adequacy of a canvass conducted by one member of the trial court, Corrigan, J., during the October 22, 1992 hearing, at which Judge Corrigan granted the defendant's motion to change his election from a jury trial to a trial by a three judge panel pursuant to General Statutes § 54-82 (b).11 The trial court explained that during that hearing, Judge Corrigan had found the defendant competent as a result of that canvass, and the trial court further concluded that Mantell's letter did not change that prior determination of competency. The trial court then explained its understanding of the evidentiary burden required for a hearing pursuant to § 54-56d, stating: "By virtue of subsection (b) of [§ 54-56d], a defendant is presumed to be competent and Doctor Mantell's letter does not indicate he is not competent. The burden provided by subsection (b) is that the burden rests upon the defendant to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is [incompetent]. So at a time when you have such evidence to produce, the court will hear you." When the defendant then offered to produce Mantell to testify, the trial court explained that even Mantell's opinion as set forth in his letter would be insufficient to establish incompetency.

Immediately after the court's ruling on the defendant's motion for a competency examination, the defendant pleaded guilty.12 Before accepting the defendant's plea, the trial court conducted a lengthy examination of the defendant pursuant to Practice Book §§ 39-19 and 39-20, formerly §§ 711 and 712.13 The court questioned the defendant extensively regarding his understanding of the specific charges against him, the penalties he faced and the factual basis of his plea. In response to many of the court's inquiries, the defendant stated that he had "reviewed that with my attorneys and I stand by my plea of guilty as to that point."

At the conclusion of the canvass, the trial court asked both the state and defense counsel whether they wanted the court to include any additional questions in the canvass. The state requested that the court ask the defendant whether he was under the influence of any medication or alcohol. The trial court responded that it had already asked the question at the beginning of the canvass.14 Neither the state nor defense counsel requested that the trial court ask the defendant any additional questions. The trial court subsequently accepted the defendant's guilty plea, stating: "The court finds that the plea of guilty to the three offenses has been made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily, with full understanding of the crimes charged, their possible penalties and the consequences of such a plea, and after adequate advice and assistance of counsel."

Defense counsel also moved for a competency examination on two subsequent occasions. On March 3, 1993, during argument on the state's motion to change psychiatrists, defense counsel noted that the defendant had declined to come to court that day and expressed concern regarding the defendant's medications and demeanor. Relying on these observations, defense counsel moved for a competency evaluation for the second time.15 The trial court denied that motion, citing its earlier denial on December 10, 1992, of the same request. The trial court also reiterated its understanding of § 54-56d.16 Additionally, the trial court noted that, although the defendant's behavior sometimes seemed inappropriate, the defendant appeared to have a good relationship with defense counsel and had behaved appropriately during the previous day's proceedings.

Defense counsel asserted that the trial court had incorrectly stated the evidentiary burden contained in § 54-56d. Defense counsel argued that the clear and convincing standard, cited by the court, did not apply to a request for a competency hearing but, rather, applied only at a later stage when proving the defendant's...

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1 books & journal articles
  • 2000 Connecticut Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 75, 2001
    • Invalid date
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