State v. Leniart

Decision Date30 June 2020
Docket NumberAC 36358
Citation198 Conn.App. 591,233 A.3d 1183
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. George Michael LENIART

Lauren M. Weisfeld, chief of legal services, 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, Devlin and Sheldon, Js.


This case returns to this court on remand from our Supreme Court following its reversal of our judgment reversing the judgment of conviction of the defendant, George Michael Leniart, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), 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, § 4.1 The sole remaining claim before us is whether the trial court's improper exclusion of certain evidence at trial violated the defendant's rights under the United States constitution. We conclude that the defendant's constitutional rights were not violated, and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of conviction.

"The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant to the claims before us. On May 29, 1996, the victim,2 who was then fifteen years old, snuck out of her parents' home to meet Patrick J. Allain, a teenage friend also known as P.J., 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, wooded location near the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge in the defendant's truck.

"While parked, the victim and Allain kissed, drank beer, and smoked marijuana. At some point, the defendant, who had told Allain that he was in a cult, called Allain aside and told him that he wanted ‘to do’ the victim and that he ‘wanted a body for the altar.’

"Allain, who feared the defendant, returned to the truck and informed the victim that he and the defendant were going to rape her. Allain then removed her clothes and had sex with her in the truck while the defendant watched through the windshield. After Allain and the victim finished having sex, the defendant climbed into the truck and sexually assaulted the victim while Allain held her breast. After the assault, the victim pretended not to be upset so that the defendant would not harm her further.

"The defendant then drove the teenagers back to Allain's neighborhood. The defendant dropped off Allain near his home, and the victim remained in the truck. The victim never returned home that night and was never seen again, despite a protracted nationwide search by law enforcement. The search also did not recover her body.

"Allain subsequently implicated the defendant in the victim's death. As a result, in 2008, the state charged the defendant with murder in violation of § 53a-54a, capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (5) for murder in the course of a kidnapping, capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (7) for murder in the course of a sexual assault, and capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (9) for murder of a person under the age of sixteen. The case was tried to a jury.

"The state's case against the defendant included the testimony of four witnesses, who each testified that, at different times, the defendant had admitted, directly or indirectly, to killing the victim. Allain, the state's key witness, was serving a ten year sentence for an unrelated sexual assault at the time of trial. He testified that, on the afternoon following the previously described events, the defendant had asked to meet with him on a path behind the Mohegan School in Montville. At that meeting, the defendant admitted that he had to do [the victim]—to get rid of her.’ The defendant described to Allain how, after dropping Allain off the night before, he had pretended to run out of gas near the path.3 He then ripped the license plates off his truck, dragged the frantic victim into the woods, and choked her. Later that evening, at a second meeting, the defendant further confessed to Allain that he had killed the victim and had ‘erased’ her by placing her remains in a lobster trap and dropping them into the mud at the bottom of the Thames River. The defendant was a lobster fisherman at the time." (Footnotes in original.) State v. Leniart , 333 Conn. 88, 93–95, 215 A.3d 1104 (2019).

"Prior to trial, the state filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude all testimony or evidence pertaining to the polygraph examination of any witnesses. Defense counsel opposed the motion, arguing that he intended to offer, among other things, a ninety minute videotape showing the standard pretest interview that the polygrapher, state police Trooper Tim Madden, had conducted with Allain prior to performing Allain's polygraph test in 2004. Defense counsel stated that he would seek to offer the videotape on the ground that it showed Madden giving Allain numerous assurances that Allain would receive favorable treatment if he cooperated with the police, which, defense counsel argued, ‘raises questions ... about whether this young man is coming into this courtroom with the intention to do anything other than save himself.’

"The trial court ruled that the videotape was inadmissible. The court's oral ruling appeared to adopt the state's argument that a recording of a pretest interview or, indeed, any reference to the fact that a polygraph examination has been conducted, constitutes polygraph evidence and is, therefore, per se inadmissible. The court did, however, indicate that it would permit defense counsel to cross-examine Allain regarding ‘any promises or benefits that were made to him during the course of that interview.’ " Id., at 124–25, 215 A.3d 1104.

"The jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. 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. On appeal to [this court], the defendant raised various challenges to the trial court's evidentiary rulings and also claimed, relying in part on the common-law corpus delicti rule, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. State v. Leniart , [166 Conn. App. 142, 146–49, 140 A.3d 1026 (2016) ]. [This court] rejected the defendant's sufficiency claim but concluded that the trial court incorrectly had excluded the polygraph pretest interview videotape, as well as expert testimony relating to the credibility of jailhouse informants. [This court] then concluded that those evidentiary rulings substantially affected the verdict and, accordingly, remanded the case for a new trial.

"[Our Supreme Court] granted the state's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the questions of whether [this court] correctly concluded that the trial court had erroneously excluded the polygraph pretest interview videotape and expert testimony regarding jailhouse informant testimony and that those rulings substantially affected the verdict. State v. Leniart , 323 Conn. 918, 150 A.3d 1149 (2016). [The Supreme Court] also granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the question of whether [this court] properly applied the corpus delicti rule in concluding that there was sufficient evidence to sustain his conviction of murder and capital felony. State v. Leniart , 323 Conn. 918, 918–19, 149 A.3d 499 (2016)." (Footnote omitted.) State v. Leniart , supra, 333 Conn. at 96, 215 A.3d 1104.

Our Supreme Court affirmed this court's rejection of the defendant's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Id., at 93, 215 A.3d 1104. The Supreme Court also affirmed this court's conclusion that the trial court improperly excluded the polygraph pretest interview videotape. Id. The Supreme Court concluded, however, that "any error in the exclusion of the video was harmless"; id., at 124, 215 A.3d 1104 ; and, thus, reversed the judgment of this court,4 and remanded this case for determination of the final issue of whether the exclusion of the videotape violated the defendant's constitutional rights. Id., at 152 and n.35, 215 A.3d 1104.

In assessing the evidentiary issue raised by the exclusion of the videotape and its subsequent determination that the exclusion was harmless, the Supreme Court set forth the following relevant description and analysis of its content, and of Allain's testimony at trial. "Madden's pretest interview of Allain lasted for approximately ninety minutes. For the first thirteen minutes or so, Madden and Allain discussed Allain's reasons for submitting to the polygraph. Specifically, a question arose as to whether Allain was taking the test voluntarily, because he believed that assisting the state was the right thing to do or, rather, because he was facing a potential five year sentence for having violated his probation through a failed drug test and had been led to believe that the state might not pursue a conviction if he cooperated in this matter. Allain initially indicated that he had consented to the polygraph primarily to avoid the conviction for violating his probation. Madden promptly explained, in no uncertain terms, that he could not perform the polygraph on those terms. Thus, before proceeding, Madden obtained from Allain a statement that he was participating freely.

"The remainder of the pretest interview consisted of Madden's asking Allain a series of background questions, reviewing the statements that Allain had given to the police and Allain's accounts of the events surrounding the victim's disappearance, and explaining the questions that Allain would be asked during the polygraph. During that time, Madden repeatedly emphasized how ‘unbelievably important’ it was for Allain to give completely truthful answers during the examination.

"Moreover, Madden consistently equated truthfulness with successfully passing the test, doing...

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3 cases
  • State v. Cusson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • January 25, 2022
    ...he adequately has been permitted to present the defense by different means." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Leniart , 198 Conn. App. 591, 603–604, 233 A.3d 1183, cert. denied, 335 Conn. 971, 240 A.3d 1055 (2020) ; see also State v. Porfil , 191 Conn. App. 494, 522, 215 A.3d 16......
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    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2020
    ... ... 530 233 A.3d 1183 State v. Michael T. , 194 Conn. App. 598, 617, 222 A.3d 105 (2019). Accordingly, we decline to review this claim. The judgment is reversed as to counts ... ...
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • November 10, 2020
    ...assistant state's attorney, in opposition.The defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 198 Conn. App. 591, 233 A.3d 1183 (2020), is ...

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