State v. Munoz, 15121

Decision Date09 May 1995
Docket NumberNo. 15121,15121
Citation233 Conn. 106,659 A.2d 683
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Juan Carlos MUNOZ.

Temmy Ann Pieszak, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Timothy J. Sugrue, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Eugene J. Callahan, State's Atty., and Bruce Hudock, Sr. Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).

Before PETERS, C.J., and BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT and HEIMAN, JJ.

BORDEN, Associate Justice.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether, under the circumstances of this case, the trial court's jury instruction regarding the element of causation of the death of the victim requires a new trial. The defendant, Juan Carlos Munoz, appeals 1 from the judgment of conviction, following a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a). 2 The defendant claims that: (1) the evidence was insufficient for conviction; (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding causation; (3) the probable cause hearing was flawed because (a) he was not provided with a separate interpreter to assist him in communicating with his counsel, and (b) the trial court used an incorrect standard in evaluating the evidence; (4) the trial court improperly admitted at trial the probable cause hearing testimony of a missing witness; and (5) the trial court improperly excluded at trial a prior inconsistent statement of a witness. We agree with the defendant's second claim, and reject his other claims. We therefore reverse the judgment and remand the case for a new trial.

The jury could have reasonably found the following facts. The victim, Mariano Herrera (Herrera), lived with his sister, Clara Inez Herrera, and her husband, Mario Arias, in Stamford. On May 28, 1990, the defendant, identifying himself as "Juan Carlos," telephoned their home four times looking for the victim, and was told that Herrera was not home but that a message would be relayed to him to telephone the defendant.

On May 29, 1990, Herrera arrived home from his day job at approximately 6:30 p.m., and ate dinner at approximately 9:30 p.m. with his sister and brother-in-law. That evening was marked by torrential rains. At approximately 10 p.m., Manuel Cruz, a friend of Herrera's, drove Herrera from his house to his night job at a laundromat, stopping on the way at Herrera's request for Herrera to converse with the occupant of another car who Herrera had recognized. Cruz left Herrera at the laundromat, and when he returned later to pick up Herrera, the laundromat was open and unoccupied. After waiting for approximately one hour for Herrera to return, Cruz left.

At some time between 10 p.m., when Cruz left Herrera at the laundromat, and approximately 10:45 p.m., Herrera and the defendant met on the grounds of the Bishop Meadows condominium complex in Stamford. They engaged in a knife fight, in the course of which the defendant stabbed Herrera to death. The defendant then dragged Herrera's body approximately fifty feet up a slope and left it near a stone wall.

The defendant then drove to the home of his cousin, Gonzalo Garcia, arriving at approximately 10:45 p.m. The defendant was soaking wet, and his hands were severely cut and bleeding. The defendant told Garcia that he had been attacked by robbers in New York City, and asked Garcia to take him to a hospital in New York state. Garcia took him to United Hospital in Portchester, New York, for medical treatment. They returned to Garcia's home at approximately 2 a.m.

On May 30, 1990, at approximately 6:30 a.m., Herrera's body was discovered near the stone wall in the condominium complex. It bore three major stab wounds, in the chest, back and neck, and twenty-four superficial wounds, including defensive wounds. The three major stab wounds were the cause of his death.

Subsequently, the defendant gave the Stamford police two statements in which he told the police that he and Herrera had met not at the Bishop Meadows condominium complex, but at an area near Maple Avenue, under the Interstate 95 overpass. According to the defendant's statements, Herrera, who was accompanied by another person, and he had argued over whether the defendant would be a drug courier for Herrera. Herrera then produced a knife, and cut the defendant's hands when he put them over his face to protect himself. The defendant stated that he grabbed the knife, stabbed Herrera in the back, became scared, dropped the knife, and left in his car. He also stated that Herrera was "fine" when he left Herrera in the company of the other person.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty. After denying the defendant's postverdict motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial, the trial court, Mottolese, J., rendered a judgment of conviction. This appeal followed.

I

We first consider the defendant's claim that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of murder, because if that claim is meritorious, all of his other claims are moot. We conclude, however, that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict.

The defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence that he caused Herrera's death. Specifically, he argues that the proof of causation was insufficient "because the jury could only have reached its guilty verdict by rejecting the defendant's statement that Herrera was 'fine' when he left, and conclude the opposite, i.e., that the defendant inflicted all twenty-seven stab wounds." In support of this position, the defendant contends that the jury could not conclude, from a rejection of his testimony that Herrera was fine when he left Herrera, that he inflicted any of the fatal wounds. We disagree.

The two part test for sufficiency of the evidence need not be repeated in detail. Succinctly stated, we construe the evidence to support the verdict, and determine whether the jury, based upon the cumulative effect of all that evidence and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, could have reasonably found as it did. State v. Sivri, 231 Conn. 115, 646 A.2d 169 (1994). Gauged by this standard, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to infer that the defendant caused the fatal stab wounds to Herrera.

There was evidence, from both the defendant's statements to the police and the physical evidence, that the defendant and Herrera had engaged in a knife fight. There was evidence that the wounds to the defendant's hands, as well as wounds to Herrera's hand, knee and upper leg, were defensive wounds. The defendant's wounds, however, were not serious enough to preclude the probability that he could have held a knife in his hands. Of Herrera's twenty-seven wounds, twenty-four were superficial flesh wounds. According to the testimony of Arkady Katsnelson, the state medical examiner, the fact that there were wounds on the front and back of the body indicated that Herrera had moved about during the fight, and was alive for some period of time. The fatal stab wounds were those to the chest, back and neck.

In addition, Katsnelson testified that all of the wounds had been caused by "a single sharp edged knife." Furthermore, the defendant's statement was to the effect that he remembered stabbing Herrera once or twice in the back, but that he was too drunk at the time to recall specifically how many times he had stabbed Herrera.

Furthermore, there was evidence from which the jury could have inferred that the fatal stabbing occurred not under the highway overpass, but on the grounds of the condominium complex, approximately fifty feet from where Herrera's body was found. Edward S. Breakell, an assistant state medical examiner, testified that Herrera did not die at the precise location where his body was found and that his body had been moved to that location some time after death. Anita Levinson, a resident of the complex whose condominium was near where Herrera was stabbed according to the state's theory, testified to having heard loud male voices outside her condominium between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Herrera's keys were found on the roadway of the complex, approximately fifty feet from where the body was found. The condition of Herrera's body and clothing indicated that his body had been dragged backward from the approximate location of his keys on the roadway to the place, fifty feet away, where it was discovered.

Finally, "the state of mind that is characterized as 'guilty consciousness' or 'consciousness of guilt' is strong evidence that a defendant is indeed guilty." State v. Moody, 214 Conn. 616, 626, 573 A.2d 716 (1990). The defendant lied to his cousin and to the hospital personnel about the source of his injuries. Also, on June 4, 1990, the Stamford police first met with the defendant at the United Hospital, in Portchester, New York, where the defendant had gone for follow-up treatment for his wounds. At that time, the defendant lied to the police about how he had traveled to the hospital, and about the source of his wounds, repeating to them the story that he had been cut while being robbed in New York City.

The defendant then went with the police officers to police headquarters in Stamford. After the defendant repeated his story about the New York City robbery, the police showed him a photograph of Herrera, and the defendant denied knowing him. The defendant then changed his story and stated that, on the night of May 30, 1990, he and a friend, whom he identified as Carlos Perez, went to meet Herrera for the purpose of refusing Herrera's offer to the defendant to become a drug courier for Herrera. According to this statement of the defendant, when he told Herrera of his refusal Herrera produced a knife, cut the defendant's hands as the defendant protected himself, and then the defendant left, never having cut or stabbed Herrera, and Perez stayed with Herrera.

When the police told the defendant that they did not believe him, the defendant then gave a different statement. In this version, he stated...

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