State v. Komisarjevsky, SC 18973

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtROBINSON, C. J.
Decision Date12 April 2021
PartiesSTATE OF CONNECTICUT v. JOSHUA KOMISARJEVSKY
Docket NumberSC 18973

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.

JOSHUA KOMISARJEVSKY

No. SC 18973

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 12, 2021 [**]


Argued October 17, 2019

Procedural History

Information charging the defendant with six counts of the crime of capital felony, four counts of the crime of kidnapping in the first degree, three counts of the crime of murder, and one count each of the crimes of sexual assault in the first degree, burglary in the second degree, arson in the first degree and assault in the second degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, where the court, Blue, J., denied the defendant's motions for a change of venue, to sequester the jury, to continue jury selection, to strike the jury panel, for additional peremptory challenges and to excuse tainted jury panels; thereafter, the case was tried to the jury before Blue, J.; subsequently, the court denied the defendant's motions for a continuance, to open the evidence, and for a mistrial; verdict of guilty; thereafter, during the penalty phase of the proceedings, the jury found the existence of an aggravating factor or factors that outweighed any mitigating factors; subsequently, the court, Blue, J., rendered judgment in accordance with the jury verdict and the jury's findings during the penalty phase, and imposed a sentence of death with respect to the six capital felony counts, and the defendant appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Blue, J., granted in part the defendant's motions for augmentation and rectification of the record; subsequently, the court, Blue, J., granted the defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence. Affirmed.

John Holdridge, with whom were Erica Barber and, on the brief, Moira L. Buckley, for the appellant (defendant).

Marjorie Allen Dauster, former special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, Michael Dearington, former state's attorney, Gary Nicholson, former senior state's attorney, Robert Scheinblum, senior assistant state's attorney, and Leonard C. Boyle, former deputy chief state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, D'Auria, Mullins, Ecker, Alvord and Keller, Js. [*]

OPINION

ROBINSON, C. J.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether Connecticut's individual voir dire process protected the right of the defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky, to a fair trial by assessing and mitigating the prejudicial effects of pretrial publicity about this particularly notorious case involving a home invasion in Cheshire that resulted in multiple fatalities. The defendant appeals[1] from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of, among other crimes, six counts of capital felony in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2007) § 53a-54b. On appeal, the defendant claims, inter alia, that the trial court improperly (1) denied his motions to change the venue of his trial from the judicial district of New Haven (New Haven), (2) denied his challenges for cause to twelve prospective jurors, and (3) denied his motions to reopen the evidence, for a mistrial, or for a continuance because of the state's belated disclosure of certain letters written by the defendant's accomplice, Steven Hayes. The defendant also contends that the trial court unconstitutionally applied the stringent conditions of confinement set forth in General Statutes § 18-10b[2] to the defendant when he was resentenced after his death sentence was vacated. Finally, the defendant contends that the state deprived him of his due process right to a fair trial by (1) failing to disclose certain communications among various Cheshire police officers during and after the response to the home invasion, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), and (2) failing to correct materially false expert testimony about a highly inflammatory photograph of female genitalia found on the defendant's cell phone in violation of Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 (1972), and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 79 S.Ct. 1173, 3 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1959). We disagree with all of these claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. In 2007, the P family, consisting of W, an endocrinologist, J, his wife, who was a nurse, and their two daughters, seventeen year old H, and eleven year old M, lived in a house at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive in Cheshire. In the early evening of July 22, 2007, the defendant went to the Stop and Shop supermarket at the Maplecroft Plaza in Cheshire to meet a contractor who owed him wages for construction work. While in the Stop and Shop parking lot, he saw J and M, who were there shopping for dinner. Intrigued by J's car, a Chrysler Pacifica, the defendant followed J and M to the P residence, and was further impressed by their apparent prosperity.

The defendant then contacted Hayes, with whom he had been communicating by text message about plans to make money in some way. After spending the evening caring for his daughter, the defendant returned to the Stop and Shop parking lot at approximately 10 p.m., where he met Hayes. After driving around for a while in the defendant's van discussing ways to make money, including robbing people who were using ATMs or coming out of bars, the defendant remembered J and M from earlier in the evening and told Hayes about them. After some discussion, Hayes and the defendant came to believe that there might be a lot of money in the P family home.

After driving around for a while longer, the defendant and Hayes went to Sorghum Mill Drive in the defendant's van, parked around the corner from the P family residence, and donned rubber gloves and face masks improvised from cut up shirts and a hat. Hayes brought with him a pellet gun that he had purchased the day before at a nearby Wal-Mart while accompanied by the defendant; the pellet gun looked like a nine millimeter pistol.

At approximately 2 a.m. on July 23, 2007, the defendant and Hayes approached the P residence and walked around the house. They noticed that W was sleeping on a couch in the sunroom. The defendant then entered the house through an unlocked bulkhead door to the basement. The defendant found a baseball bat in the basement and carried it with him to the sunroom, where he repeatedly struck W in the head with the bat, causing W to make an ‘‘unearthly scream.'' After W, who was bleeding profusely and confused, backed into the corner of the couch and quieted down, the defendant let Hayes into the house through the back door.

After W stirred and sat up, Hayes pointed the pellet gun at him. The defendant then ordered W to lie down on the couch and covered his bleeding head with a towel; Hayes and the defendant bound W's wrists and ankles with a cotton rope clothesline that the defendant had found on the basement stairs. The defendant told Hayes to ‘‘put a bullet in'' W if he were to move, and said to W, ‘‘if we get the money, nobody will be hurt . . . .'' In response to the defendant's questions about whether anyone else was in the house, W told him that J, H, and M were upstairs. Hayes and the defendant then tied up J and M, who were sleeping in the same bed in the master bedroom, and went into H's bedroom and tied her up, as well.

After talking with J and searching the house, the defendant and Hayes concluded around 4 a.m. that there was no money there, but they realized from the check register and receipts in J's purse that W and J had approximately $40, 000 in their Bank of America accounts; they asked W and J about that money at various points during the encounter. The defendant and Hayes decided to wait until the bank opened at 9 a.m., at which point Hayes would take J there to withdraw $15, 000, an amount that they believed would not raise a ‘‘red flag . . . .'' The defendant and Hayes then went back upstairs and retied the ropes binding J, H, and M, making sure to secure them to their bedframes. The defendant and Hayes took all of the family's portable and cell phones that they could find and drove the Pacifica and the defendant's van to a nearby condominium complex on Mountain Road, where, to avoid triggering any of the neighbors' suspicions, they parked the defendant's van before returning to the house in the Pacifica.

At approximately 5 a.m., the defendant and Hayes moved W from the sunroom down to the basement in order to avoid the possibility that a neighbor might see him through the sunroom window. They tied W to a support pole in the basement with a rope, sat him on a pillow, and rebound his feet with a plastic zip tie. Shortly thereafter, J, acting at Hayes' direction, called W's medical office and asked a nurse to cancel his morning schedule because he was ill.

During the encounter, the defendant spoke to M several times about her summer plans and schooling; he also brought her water and provided her with bathroom breaks. In the meantime, tensions continued to rise between Hayes and the defendant because Hayes expressed concern to the defendant about having left traces of their DNA in the house; Hayes then proposed burning down the house and kidnapping the victims using the family's vehicles. A short time later, Hayes became angrier because he believed that the defendant had used his real name in front of the victims, and he proposed killing them instead. Hayes found several one gallon bottles of windshield washer fluid in the garage and emptied them into the kitchen sink. At approximately 8 a.m., Hayes drove the Pacifica to a nearby Citgo service station and filled four of the containers with gasoline, communicating with the defendant several times on his cell phone while he was out. Hayes then returned to the house and left those four containers in the garage.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Hayes and J...

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