State v. Morrill

Decision Date10 September 1985
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Todd C. MORRILL.

James A. Wade, Hartford, with whom were Sally Kemp-Orino, Hartford, and, on the brief, Sally S. King, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Carl Schuman, Asst. State's Atty., with whom were John T. Redway, State's Atty., and, on the brief, Erin M. Kallaugher, Law Student Intern, for appellee (state).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

The defendant has appealed from his conviction by a jury of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. His numerous claims of error may be generally classified as relating to (1) the sufficiency of the evidence; (2) the grand jury proceedings; (3) the denial of his right of speedy trial as a result of both pre-indictment and post-indictment delay; (4) the admission of his claimed confession based upon conduct implying a tacit admission; (5) the denial of his motion to suppress certain evidence obtained pursuant to a search warrant claimed to have been issued without probable cause; (6) the failure of the state fully and timely to disclose certain exculpatory evidence; (7) the admission of certain evidence claimed to be (a) irrelevant and (b) incompetent; and (8) the denial of his motion in arrest of judgment based upon lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter of the crime. We find error only in the admission of the testimony concerning the defendant's tacit confession to the murder, which we conclude was in violation of Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 96 S.Ct. 2240, 49 L.Ed.2d 91 (1976), and remand for a new trial. With respect to those issues that would warrant a judgment of acquittal and dismissal, we find no error. We also discuss those remaining issues which are likely to arise upon a retrial, for the purpose of providing guidance to the trial court.


The defendant claims that his motion for an acquittal should have been granted because there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had murdered the victim. We find no error in the denial of this motion.

From the evidence the jury could reasonably have found the following facts: On Saturday, November 18, 1978, at about 2 p.m. the body of a seventeen year old girl, Linda McLaughlin, was found by a hunter in a remote section of Portland, partially hidden under a spruce tree. Seven stab wounds had been inflicted upon her torso and one slash wound to her throat. Her death had probably occurred on Friday, November 17, between 12 and 8 a.m.

The victim had known the defendant since she was fifteen years old. She had started dating him steadily in the fall of 1978, but had also dated other young men for a few weeks preceding her death. Within the week before her death, the victim had expressed a desire to break off her relationship with the defendant. They had argued frequently and, on one occasion, two to three weeks before the crime, the defendant had threatened her with a buck knife he regularly carried.

The defendant was engaged in selling drugs and he supplied the victim with drugs for her own use as well as for sale to others at the high school she attended. On Wednesday, November 15, the victim expressed concern that if she were "short" from previous sales the defendant would "kill" her. On Thursday, November 16, she said she had some drugs she wanted to sell quickly because she owed the defendant money and that if she were "five cents short, he'll kill me." Between 3:30 and 4:00 o'clock that afternoon the victim left her home with the defendant in a silver-gray Mercury Cougar that he frequently drove. In the evening, the victim and the defendant together visited Dean Wilson and Mary Wynne at their apartment. The four young people consumed some drugs, including "THC," that probably contained the chemical phencyclidene, which may induce unsteady, violent and assaultive behavior. The defendant and the victim left the apartment about 8 p.m. with the stated intention of going to the Brave Bull Cafe in South Windsor.

The dirt road leading to the site where the body of the victim was found was muddy, full of ruts and bordered by bushes that could scratch a car. The Mercury Cougar driven by the defendant was found, when it was seized after the body had been discovered, to have scratches along the side and dents under the carriage and gas tank. Undercoating material found on two rocks near the site of the body was of the same kind as that on the underside of the Mercury. Some mud and fresh soil clinging to the bottom of that vehicle was similar in color, texture and mineral content to soil samples taken from the road that passed the site of the body. A piece of amber glass found in a grease spot in the right front wheel well of the car was similar to three small glass fragments found near the body.

A search of the defendant's bedroom on November 19, the day after discovery of the body, disclosed, on the floor of that room, several needles recently detached from a Colorado blue spruce. The victim's body had been found lying under a Colorado blue spruce tree. In this search the police also seized a boot of the defendant that bore a stain of human blood. They also took a coat containing a blood stain, which the defendant's father attempted to conceal at the time of the search. The blood stain on the coat was analyzed and found to match the blood type of the victim.

After the victim's death, the defendant no longer carried the buck knife he had previously worn on his hip. The defendant told Dean Wilson initially that he and the victim had argued after leaving the apartment on Thursday night, that he had left her near the Brave Bull Cafe because she had decided to hitchhike to her home, and that he had then given her his knife. Some time later he told Wilson that the victim had spent the night at his house and that he had dropped her off at the Dairy Queen in Portland early Friday morning. At the trial, the defendant presented the testimony of his father and others in support of this second account of the victim's disappearance. The defendant also made some statements to another witness, a fellow detainee at the Hartford jail, that could be construed to implicate him in the crime.

In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, "the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. [356, 362, 92 S.Ct. 1620, 32 L.Ed.2d 152 (1972) ]." (Emphasis in original.) State v. Scielzo, 190 Conn. 191, 197, 460 A.2d 951 (1983), quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). We conclude that the evidence, though not overwhelming and largely circumstantial, was sufficient to support the verdict of the jury.


The defendant also asserts various claims of error relating to his indictment by the grand jury. On January 2, 1980, a grand jury was summoned, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-45, "relative to the matter of Linda McLaughlin, deceased." After being charged by the court, Higgins, J., the grand jury was provided with a "list of witnesses and an indictment in blank." This list included the names of the defendant, his mother and his father. The grand jury was instructed that it might call any witness it chose, and that each witness, after being sworn, should be advised that he would be required to answer all questions posed except those that would incriminate him. The defendant and his parents were subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. At that time, the defendant and his parents moved to quash those subpoenas on the grounds that: (1) the state's attorney was without power to issue them, (2) the state trooper was without authority to serve them, resulting in a lack of in personam jurisdiction, and (3) their rights under the fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and article first, § 8 of the Connecticut constitution would be violated. The motion to quash was denied by the court. The grand jury returned a "true bill," indicting the defendant for murder.

Following his indictment, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on various claims, including those asserted in his earlier motion to quash. This motion was also denied by the court. The defendant claims error in the trial court's denial of his motions to quash and to dismiss that were based upon a number of infirmities in the grand jury procedure. Although the grand jury proceeding did not in all particulars follow our usual state practice, we find the defendant's claims to be without merit.


The state's attorney issued subpoenas to the defendant and his parents, summoning them to testify before the grand jury. The subpoenas were served by state policeman Michael Stergio, who was then investigating the murder. The defendant contends that his indictment should be overturned because the state's attorney lacked the power to issue the subpoena and because the subpoena was improperly served. We disagree.

There is no doubt that from earliest times the state's attorney has had the obligation to "refer to the grand jury the witnesses to support the bill of indictment." Lung's Case, 1 Conn. 428, 428 (1815). Typically, the state's attorney submits to the grand jury a list, suggesting possible witnesses. State v. Menillo, 159 Conn. 264, 273-74, 268 A.2d 667 (1970); 2 Swift's Digest, 394. Witnesses who do not voluntarily come before the grand jury must be subpoenaed. Throughout our history, the state's attorney has summoned witnesses to testify before the grand jury. Nahum & Schatz, "The Grand Jury In Connecticut," 5 Conn. B.J. 111 (1931). Although there is no specific statutory authority for this power, "the state's attorney ... derives his authority from the common law." State v....

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