State v. Johnson

Decision Date05 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 17267.,17267.
Citation951 A.2d 1257,288 Conn. 236
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Carvaughn JOHNSON.

Lauren Weisfeld, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Timothy J. Sugrue, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom were Michael A. Pepper, senior assistant state's attorney, and, on the brief, Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and Julia K. Conlin, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



A jury found the defendant, Carvaughn Johnson, guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a),1 and carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35.2 The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, and the defendant appealed to this court.3 The defendant seeks a new trial on the basis of his claims that the trial court improperly (1) concluded that he had not proven actual prejudice resulting from the influence of courtroom spectators on the jury's deliberations and its assessment of the witnesses' credibility, (2) concluded that the New Haven police department did not violate his due process rights in failing to make a record of the entirety of its questioning of the state's key witness and improperly declined the defendant's request for an adverse inference instruction, (3) failed to disclose to the defendant the psychological records of the state's key witness and improperly restricted defense counsel's impeachment of that witness, and (4) charged the jury regarding consciousness of guilt and reasonable doubt. We have examined each of the claims, find no impropriety and, therefore, affirm the judgment of conviction.

On the basis of the evidence presented at the trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant shot and killed the sixteen year old victim, Markeith Strong, on the evening of October 10, 2001, in New Haven. In the weeks prior to that evening, the defendant and the victim had been at odds with each other. Approximately three weeks prior to the shooting, the victim's teenage sister, L'Kaya Ford, was sitting with the victim at the corner of Read and Shepard Streets when she observed the defendant approach.4 The defendant walked toward Ford and the victim, called the victim "a punk," and threatened to assault him. The victim said nothing, and the defendant walked away.

The victim next encountered the defendant in the late afternoon of September 29, 2001, and the two engaged in a dispute over a bicycle. The victim and Ralph Ford5 were around the intersection of Read and Shepard Streets, where the victim either was riding his bicycle or standing near it, when the defendant stopped him, declared that the bicycle belonged to him and demanded that the victim give it to him. The victim refused and informed the defendant that he had found the bicycle about one month earlier and had fixed it up. The victim told the defendant that he owned the bicycle. The defendant asked for the bicycle a second time, and, when the victim refused, the defendant said, "[d]on't make me do something to you." The defendant then punched the left side of the victim's head twice, which caused a small cut near the victim's left ear. During this encounter, the defendant may have been carrying a gun.6 The defendant then took the bicycle and rode away.

After this encounter, the victim, accompanied by Ralph Ford, returned home, where his family contacted the New Haven police to report the incident. After speaking with the victim, the police officers radioed a description of the defendant and notice of a possible robbery and larceny. The police did not apprehend any suspect that day. Over the next few days, the defendant approached the victim and L'Kaya Ford about the police report, asserted that he was not going to jail, apologized to the victim and told him not to press charges. Toward the end of September, the defendant also expressed concern to his friend, Tashana Milton Toles, about the possible criminal charges that he faced as a result of the bicycle incident and specifically remarked to her that he thought he might be going back to jail.

On the morning of October 10, the defendant approached L'Kaya Ford while she was waiting for a bus. The defendant, who was driving a black car that L'Kaya Ford described as an Acura or Ford Probe, pulled the car alongside of her and accused her of being a snitch. The defendant insulted her, told her he did not like snitches and that she knew what happened to "snitches in the hood." That night, the victim, L'Kaya Ford, Ralph Ford, and other friends gathered on the corner of Read and Shepard Streets to celebrate L'Kaya Ford's birthday. Some of the group, but not Ralph Ford or the victim, were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Around 10 p.m., the victim and Ralph Ford departed together. The neighborhood around Read, Shepard, Huntington and Newhall Streets affords many shortcuts through the yards of houses that are occupied by neighborhood residents. On that night, however, Ralph Ford did not take his usual shortcut but parted from the victim, who took the shortcut home. Ralph Ford then continued walking alone on Read Street and proceeded around the corner to his house on Newhall Street.7 Upon arriving at his house, Ralph Ford heard a gun shot coming from the backyard of the house across the street. Ralph Ford then entered his front hallway. Ralph Ford heard someone running from the yard across the street and saw the defendant run into the driveway leading to Ford's house.8 Ralph Ford saw the defendant carrying a semiautomatic handgun and entering a black Acura as it exited the driveway.9 James Baker, who lived near the crime scene, heard someone run past his window, jump the fence outside his house and head into the backyard, toward Huntington Street. Approximately five minutes later, and around 10:20 p.m., Baker heard a single gunshot coming from behind his house. LaMont Wilson, who had left the group earlier than Ralph Ford and the victim, lived on Read Street and also heard a gunshot from the direction of his backyard, sometime between 10 and 10:45 p.m. Baker called the police at approximately 10:45 p.m. to report the gunshot but did not initially identify himself because he feared retaliation from "certain individuals" for contacting the police. Joanie Joyner, a resident of Huntington Street and the victim's next-door neighbor, also heard a loud "boom" from the direction of her backyard and then, sometime after 11 p.m., saw something in her yard. At approximately 11:25 p.m., she also called the police.

The defendant contacted Toles by telephone between 9:45 and 10 p.m., told her that he was about five minutes away from her dormitory at Southern Connecticut State University, and asked if he could visit her. Toles agreed. The defendant did not arrive at the dormitory until 11 p.m., at which time he phoned Toles from the lobby, and she came down to the lobby to register him as a visitor at the security desk.10 The defendant was with a friend, Travis Scott.11 To enter the dormitory, the defendant was required to provide identification at the security desk where security personnel record the information. The sign-in sheet at Toles' dormitory indicated that she signed the defendant into her building at 11:10 p.m. Shortly after they signed in, a fire alarm required all residents and visitors to evacuate the building. The alarm occurred at approximately 11:30 p.m., and the fire department and university police responded to the scene. The defendant and Scott waited with Toles and her roommate until the university permitted students to reenter the building. They retrieved their identification from the security desk and departed. During the investigation, Detective Breland of the New Haven police department drove from Ralph Ford's house to Toles' dormitory, recorded the distance to be about three miles and noted that the trip took approximately ten minutes.

Officers Mark Taylor and Brian Pazsak of the New Haven police department were on patrol in the Newhall and Huntington Street area on the night of October 10, 2001, and received the dispatch related to Baker's and Joyner's calls. Police responded first to Baker's call and investigated the general area, but saw nothing amiss. After responding to Joyner's call around 11:35 p.m., the officers found the victim lying face down in Joyner's backyard. The victim appeared to be unconscious and bleeding from the mouth. The officers also found a spent nine millimeter shell casing nearby. New Haven fire department personnel were called but were unable to resuscitate the victim, who was pronounced dead at the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven.

Arkady Katsnelson of the chief medical examiner's office performed an autopsy of the victim on October 11, 2001, and determined that he had died of a single gunshot wound to the right side of his face.12 Katsnelson concluded that the bullet penetrated the victim's face and neck, and completely severed the spinal cord, instantly incapacitating the victim. The defendant was charged with the victim's murder and related crimes on April 24, 2002, and subsequently was tried. After seven days of deliberations, the jury in the defendant's first trial was unable to reach a verdict. Therefore, the trial court, Licari, J., declared a mistrial pursuant to Practice Book § 42-45.13 The present appeal arises from the second trial of the defendant in which the jury returned a verdict of guilty of the crimes of murder and carrying a pistol without a permit. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary in the context of the defendant's specific claims on appeal.


The defendant first claims that he was denied his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury in violation of the sixth amendment to the United States constitution and article first, § 8, of the...

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