State v. Knox, 112420 CTCA, AC 41168

Docket Nº:AC 41168, AC 41644
Opinion Judge:ALEXANDER, J.
Party Name:STATE OF CONNECTICUT v. RICKIE LAMONT KNOX
Attorney:James M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Terence Mariani and Elena Palermo, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellant in Docket No. AC 41168 (state). James M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the bri...
Judge Panel:Alvord, Alexander and Harper, Js.
Case Date:November 24, 2020
Court:Appellate Court of Connecticut

STATE OF CONNECTICUT

v.

RICKIE LAMONT KNOX

Nos. AC 41168, AC 41644

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 24, 2020

Argued September 9, 2020

Procedural History

Two part substitute information charging the defendant, in the first part, with the crimes of murder, criminal possession of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence and, in the second part, with being a persistent serious felony offender, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, and tried to the jury before Alander,

J.; verdict of guilty of criminal possession of a firearm, tampering with physical evidence, and with being a persistent serious felony offender; thereafter, the court granted the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal as to the charge of tampering with physical evidence; subsequently, the court, Alander,

J., rendered judgment of guilty of criminal possession of a firearm and enhanced the defendant's sentence for being a persistent serious felony offender, from which the state, on the granting of permission, and the defendant filed separate appeals to this court. Affirmed.

James M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Terence Mariani and Elena Palermo, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellant in Docket No. AC 41168 (state).

James M. Ralls, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Terence Mariani, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee in Docket No. AC 41644 (state).

Erica A. Barber, assigned counsel, for the appellant in Docket No. AC 41644 and the appellee in Docket No. AC 41168 (defendant).

Alvord, Alexander and Harper, Js.

OPINION

ALEXANDER, J.

This case involves two separate appeals. First, in the appeal in Docket No. AC 41168, the state appeals from the decision of the trial court granting the motion for judgment of acquittal filed by the defendant, Rickie Lamont Knox, with respect to the charge of tampering with physical evidence in violation of General Statutes § 53a-155. The state contends that sufficient evidence existed to support this conviction. Second, in the appeal in Docket No. AC 41644, the defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217. The defendant contends that his postarrest statements to the police had been obtained following a violation of the prophylactic rule created by our Supreme Court in State v.

Purcell, 331 Conn. 318, 203 A.3d 542 (2019), and, therefore, should have been excluded from evidence. The defendant also argues that the court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional rights by admitting into evidence certain inculpatory portions of his police interview while excluding related contextual portions. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, as the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are necessary for the resolution of these appeals. On October 17, 2015, Isaiah James spent the day socializing with the decedent, Anthony Crespo, at the decedent's apartment. At some point that night, two other individuals, Ismail Abdus-Sabur and Timothy Minnifield, joined James and the decedent. After consuming all of the alcohol at the decedent's apartment, the group walked to the Barley Corn Cafe (cafe) around 1 a.m. on October 18, 2015. James and the decedent attempted to enter the cafe while the other two men, who were under the age of twenty-one, waited outside. After being denied entry into the cafe, James ‘‘bumped'' into another man standing outside, and a brief verbal disagreement ensued. James then walked over to Abdus-Sabur and Minnifield. An individual, who the state argued was the defendant, then placed his hand, positioned to resemble a gun, to James' head, and cautioned him to ‘‘[w]atch [his] ass . . . .''

After being threatened, James spoke with the decedent. James turned around and realized that there was ‘‘a group of guys around [them].'' The decedent began to argue with this group. The defendant, standing directly in front of the decedent, drew a handgun from his waistband. The decedent appeared to reach for a gun in his waistband. The defendant shot the decedent, who fell to the ground, injured.1 The decedent discharged his gun while on the ground. The defendant then fled the scene.

Edward Bergin, the owner of the cafe, came outside and was directed to the decedent, who remained on the ground. Bergin overheard the decedent ask Edwin Melendez to retrieve the decedent's gun from under a nearby parked motor vehicle. Melendez looked under the motor vehicle, grabbed the decedent's gun and placed it in his vehicle. Bergin relayed this information regarding the relocating of the decedent's gun to Brian Brunelli, a Waterbury police officer who had been dispatched to the cafe.

Brunelli observed a small hole in the center of the decedent's chest. The decedent's gun was recovered from Melendez' vehicle. While on the ground outside of the cafe, the decedent informed Brunelli that he could neither breathe nor feel his legs. Medical personnel transported the decedent to the hospital, where he died soon thereafter.2

Joe Rainone, a Waterbury police lieutenant, processed the crime scene where the police recovered three firearm cartridges: a fired nine millimeter cartridge, an unfired .45 caliber cartridge, and a fired .45 caliber cartridge, which later testing revealed had been discharged from the decedent's gun.3 On the basis of the evidence at the crime scene, the police concluded that two different guns had been used in the shooting outside of the cafe, and that the decedent had fired one shot during the altercation.

After an investigation, the police arrested the defendant approximately one month later. Recorded police interviews with the defendant occurred on November 20 and 21, 2015. At the start of the trial, the state filed an information charging the defendant with murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54, criminal possession of a firearm in violation of § 53a-217, carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35 and tampering with physical evidence in violation of § 53a-155. At the conclusion of the trial, the state withdrew the charge of carrying a pistol without a permit and filed a new long form information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder, criminal possession of a firearm and tampering with physical evidence. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on the murder charge and certain lesser included offenses, 4 and a guilty verdict on the criminal possession of a firearm and tampering with physical evidence charges.

Following the jury's verdict, the court granted the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal with respect to the charge of tampering with physical evidence. The court concluded that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence that the defendant had removed his gun from the crime scene with the intent to hinder a criminal investigation. The court then proceeded to the state's part B information and the jury found the defendant guilty of being a persistent serious felony offender. See General Statutes § 53a-40 (c). On February 9, 2018, the court imposed a total effective sentence of twenty years incarceration. These appeals followed.

I

In the appeal in Docket No. AC 41168, the state claims that the court improperly granted the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal with respect to the charge of tampering with physical evidence. Specifically, the state contends that it had produced sufficient evidence that the defendant had removed his gun from the crime scene with the intent to impair its availability in a criminal investigation by a law enforcement agency. We disagree.

The state charged the defendant with tampering with physical evidence in violation of § 53a-155 (a) (1) by fleeing from the crime scene with his gun.5 On October 2, 2017, the defendant filed a motion seeking, in part, to dismiss the tampering charge. On October 17, 2017, the court heard arguments on this motion. The court denied that portion of the defendant's motion to dismiss ‘‘in essence'' but noted that the defendant could raise arguments relating to the tampering with physical evidence charge at a later time.

Before the conclusion of the state's case, the parties stipulated that the defendant had been convicted of a felony prior to the events of October 18, 2015. As a result of this stipulation, the court instructed the jury[6]that the evidence of the prior conviction had been admitted for the limited purpose of establishing one of the elements of criminal possession of a firearm7 and was not to be used for any other purpose. The court subsequently reiterated the limited purpose of the evidence of the defendant's prior felony conviction during its final instructions to the jury.8

On October 31, 2017, after the conclusion of the evidentiary phase of the trial, the defendant filed a motion for judgment of acquittal. See Practice Book § 42-40. The defendant asserted that the state had failed to produce evidence that he ‘‘altered, destroyed, concealed or removed a firearm with the purpose to impair its availability in a criminal investigation or official proceeding.'' During oral argument on the defendant's motion, the prosecutor noted that the requisite intent for tampering with physical evidence could be inferred from both the defendant's flight from the scene and the fact that, given his prior felony conviction, the defendant knew that possession of a firearm constituted evidence of criminal possession of a firearm. After hearing from the parties, the court reserved judgment...

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