State v. Leniart

Decision Date14 June 2016
Docket NumberAC 36358
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Sheldon, Prescott and Flynn, Js.

(Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New London, Jongbloed, J.)

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

Stephen M. Carney, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).


PRESCOTT, J. The defendant, George Michael Leniart, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a),1 and three counts of capital felony in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1995) § 53a-54b (5), (7) and (9), as amended by Public Acts 1995, No. 95-16, § 4.2 The defendant claims that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the crimes of which he was convicted. He also claims that the trial court improperly excluded a videotape of an interview conducted by police of a crucial prosecution witness just prior to the administration of a polygraph examination, admitted evidence of prior misconduct committed by the defendant, and excluded expert testimony that he proffered regarding the lack of reliability of jailhouse informant testimony. Although we disagree with the defendant's claims regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, we agree that the court improperly excluded the polygraph pretest interview videotape, and, accordingly, we reverse the judgment of conviction and remand the case for a new trial. Because the remaining two evidentiary issues are likely to arise again on remand, we address them in turn. Although we disagree with the defendant that the court improperly admitted evidence of his prior misconduct, we agree that the court improperly excluded expert testimony proffered by the defendant regarding the reliability of jailhouse informant testimony.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On May 29, 1996, the victim, A.P.,3 who was fifteen years old, snuck out of her parents' home to meet P.J. Allain, another teenager, so that they could smoke marijuana, drink alcohol, and have sex. The two teenagers were picked up by the defendant, who at the time was thirty-three years old. They then drove to a secluded location in the woods.

A.P. and Allain drank beer, smoked marijuana, and kissed in the defendant's pickup truck. The defendant took Allain aside and told him that he wanted "to do her" and that he "wanted a body for the altar." The defendant had previously told Allain that he was in a cult.

Allain returned to the truck and told A.P. that she was going to be raped by the defendant. A.P. asked that she have sex only with Allain. Allain then removed her clothes and had sex with her in the truck while the defendant watched through the windshield. After Allain and A.P. finished having sex, the defendant climbed into the truck and sexually assaulted A.P. During the assault, Allain kept his hand on A.P.'s breast but could not look at her because he felt horrible. Afterward, A.P. pretended not to be upset so that the defendant would not harm her further.

The defendant then proceeded to drive the teenagers toward home. The defendant dropped off Allain near his home. After Allain was no longer present, the defendant drove A.P. to an unknown location, where he pretended to run out of gas. The defendant forced A.P. to run into the woods with him, and at times he had to drag her along. The defendant then choked A.P., killed her, and disposed of her body in an unknown location. A.P. was never seen again by anyone despite a nationwide search by law enforcement for many years, and her remains have never been recovered.

The defendant admitted to four individuals, on different occasions, to killing A.P. and/or to disposing of her body: Allain4 and three inmates—Michael Douton,5 Zee Ching,6 and Kenneth Buckingham.7 The defendant was incarcerated with Douton, Ching, and Buckingham at various times while he was serving a sentence for sexually assaulting K.S., a thirteen year old girl, approximately six months prior to the disappearance of A.P.

A warrant was issued for the defendant's arrest on March 28, 2008, and the defendant was subsequently charged in a substitute, long form information with the following crimes: murder in violation of § 53a-54a; capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (5) (kidnap-murder); capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (7) (murder in the course of sexual assault); and capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (9) (murder of person under age sixteen).

The matter was tried to a jury, Jongbloed, J., presiding. On March 2, 2010, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. On June 22, 2010, the court merged the verdicts into a single conviction of capital felony and sentenced the defendant to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history shall be set forth as necessary to address the claims of the defendant.


The defendant first claims that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the charges of which he was convicted. Specifically, the defendant asserts that the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) A.P. is dead, because, pursuant to the corpus delicti rule, the defendant's alleged confessions may not be used as evidence to prove that A.P. is dead in the absence of independent proof of her death; (2) the defendant intended to kill A.P.; (3) he murdered A.P. during the commission of a sexual assault because there was no evidence independent of his confessions that he sexually assaulted A.P.; and (4) he murdered A.P. in the course of a kidnapping or before she could be returned to safety.8 For the reasons that follow, the defendant cannot prevail on his sufficiency of the evidence claims.


We first turn to the defendant's claim that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that A.P. is dead because, in his view, the only evidence of A.P.'s death is the testimony of four of the state's witnesses that the defendant separately confessed to each of them that he killed A.P. and disposed of her body. The defendant argues that, under these circumstances, the common-law corpus delicti rule prevents him from being convicted of murder and capital felony solely on the basis of his uncorroborated confessions and in the absence of independent extrinsic evidence of the fact of death of the alleged victim.

In response, the state argues that the evidence is sufficient to prove A.P.'s death beyond a reasonable doubt because (1) the defendant cannot rely on the corpus delicti rule, as he failed to object to the admission of his confessions at trial; and (2), under Connecticut's formulation of the corpus delicti rule, a defendant's confession may be used to prove the corpus delicti, i.e., the death of the victim, as long as there is corroborating evidence that substantially establishes the trustworthiness of the defendant's confession. Such corroborating evidence, the state contends, need not itself independently establish the corpus delicti, may be circumstantial in nature, and need not prove any element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

We reject the defendant's claim that the evidence was insufficient to prove A.P.'s death. We reach this conclusion primarily for two reasons. First, we conclude that under Connecticut law the corpus delicti rule is an evidentiary rule regarding the admissibility of confessions rather than a substantive rule of criminal law to be applied in reviewing the sufficiency of the state's evidence. In this case, the defendant did not object to the admissibility of his confessions at trial and has not challenged their admissibility on appeal.9 Accordingly, we conclude that because the defendant has not challenged the admission of the confessions, the confessions may be considered by this court in analyzing the sufficiency of the state's evidence without reference to the corpus delicti rule.

Second, we conclude that, even if the defendant is permitted to raise the corpus delicti rule as part of his sufficiency of the evidence claim, the sufficiency claim fails because substantial evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, was admitted at trial to corroborate both the trustworthiness of his confessions and the fact of A.P.'s death. As a result, because the defendant's confessions may be considered by this court in assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, we apply the traditional standard of review in assessing the evidence and conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that A.P. is dead.

We begin our analysis by reviewing the purpose, history, and present scope of the corpus delicti rule in Connecticut. The corpus delicti rule, which is often also referred to as the corroboration rule, exists "to protect against conviction of offenses that have not, in fact, occurred, in other words, to prevent errors in convictions based solely upon untrue confessions to nonexistent crimes." State v. Arnold, 201 Conn. 276, 287, 514 A.2d 330 (1986). An early version of Connecticut's corroboration rule was extensively discussed in State v. Doucette, 147 Conn. 95, 98-100, 157 A.2d 487 (1959), overruled in part by State v. Tillman, 152 Conn. 15, 20, 202 A.2d 494 (1964). The court in Doucette described the rule as follows: "[T]he corpus delicti [that is, that the crime charged has been committed by someone] cannot be established by the extra-judicial confession of the defendant unsupported by corroborative evidence. . . .

"The Connecticut rule, which we reaffirm, is that, although the confession is evidence tending to prove both the fact that the crime [charged] was committed [by someone, that is, the corpus delicti] and the defendant's agency...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT