State v. Piskorski

Citation419 A.2d 866,177 Conn. 677
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date19 June 1979
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Ronald PISKORSKI.

George D. Stoughton, State's Atty., with whom was Robert M. Meyers, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


COTTER, Chief Justice.

On the night of October 19, 1974, six persons were found murdered at the Donna Lee Bakery in New Britain. Subsequently, the defendant, Ronald Piskorski, and one Gary Schrager were arrested in connection In his appeal, the defendant does not claim that the evidence presented was insufficient to support the verdict rendered. Rather, he challenges a wide variety of rulings made by the trial court during the course of and prior to the trial, the court's charge to the jury, and its denial of his motion to set aside the verdict. These numerous issues, as well as an additional exposition of the relevant facts involved in each, will be discussed seriatim.

with the killings. On March 24, 1975, a grand jury found a true bill of indictment accusing the defendant of six counts of murder and charging that he or another participant caused the death of six persons in the course of the commission of, or an attempt to commit, a robbery. See General Statutes § 53a-54c. After a trial by a jury of twelve, a verdict of guilty as charged was returned as to all six counts of the indictment, which was accepted and ordered recorded by the court on December 22, 1975. The defendant's motion to set aside the verdict was denied, and he has appealed.


Following his arrest, the defendant timely filed motions to require that a record be made of the grand jury proceedings and to permit counsel to be present during the grand jury proceedings. Both motions were denied by the court, and the defendant has claimed those rulings to be constitutional error.


Although we agree with the defendant that recordation of grand jury testimony may well be a more acceptable procedure, 1 "(i)t has been unequivocally established in this state that neither precedent nor the due administration of justice requires . . . that a stenographic record be made of the grand jury proceedings. State v. Delgado, 161 Conn. 536, 539, 290 A.2d 338, remanded for resentencing, 408 U.S. 940, 92 S.Ct. 2879, 33 L.Ed.2d 764; State v. Vennard, 159 Conn. 385, 390, 270 A.2d 837, cert. denied, 400 U.S. 1011, 91 S.Ct. 576, 27 L.Ed.2d 625." (Emphasis added.) State v. Cobbs, 164 Conn. 402, 411-12, 324 A.2d 234, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 861, 94 S.Ct. 77, 38 L.Ed.2d 112. "There is no constitutional . . . right to have a stenographer present in the grand jury room and we find no error in the refusal of the trial court to permit it in this case." State v. Delgado, supra, 161 Conn. 540, 290 A.2d 340; accord, United States v. Rubin, 559 F.2d 975, 988 (5th Cir.); see United States v. Ayers, 426 F.2d 524, 528 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 842, 91 S.Ct. 85, 27 L.Ed.2d 78.


As the defendant recognizes, this court has consistently stated that there is no constitutional right that counsel be present at grand jury proceedings. State v. Cobbs, supra; State v. Delgado, supra, 161 Conn. 539, 290 A.2d 338; State v. Vennard, supra; State v. LaBreck, 159 Conn. 346, 347-48, 269 A.2d 74; State v. Stallings, 154 Conn. 272, 282, 224 A.2d 718. The defendant argues, nevertheless, that since none of the above cases "expressly comes to grips with the rationale" of Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1, 90 S.Ct. 1999, 26 L.Ed.2d 387, we should reconsider our position that the presence of counsel at such proceedings is not constitutionally mandated.

In Coleman, the United States Supreme Court held that an Alabama preliminary hearing was a "critical stage" of that state's criminal process at which the accused was entitled to counsel. Id., 10, 90 S.Ct. 1999. On the basis of that decision, the defendant suggests that we reexamine our holding in State v. Stallings, supra, that proceedings before a grand jury in this state are not a "critical stage" requiring the presence of counsel.

The precise claim raised by the defendant in the present case was recently rejected by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Cobbs v. Robinson, 528 F.2d 1331, 1338-39 The trial court was not in error in overruling the defendant's claim.

(2d Cir.), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 947, 96 S.Ct. 1419, 47 L.Ed.2d 354. In that case, the court noted that Connecticut grand jury proceedings are "readily distinguishable from" the Alabama preliminary hearing referred to in Coleman, supra; Cobbs v. Robinson, supra, 1339 n. 4; [177 Conn. 682] and concluded that the dangers and circumstances which the United States Supreme Court has described as calling for the assistance of counsel are not present in this state's grand jury proceedings. Id., 1339.



The defendant next claims that the trial court's denial of his motion for a change of venue resulted in a denial of his right to a trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed by the sixth amendment to the constitution of the United States and article first, sections 8 and 19 of the constitution of Connecticut, 2 and deprived him of due process of law in derogation of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States and article first, sections 8 and 9 of the constitution of Connecticut. The defendant bases his argument in this regard on the ground that "the massive pretrial publicity in this case resulted in an inherently prejudicial atmosphere in Hartford County."

As the facts contained in the trial court's limited finding on this issue make clear, to say that there was massive media coverage at the time the killings occurred understates the true extent of the publicity which was generated. The trial court undertook a detailed examination of the geographical reach of the various news media which covered these events and obtained estimates as to the number of homes penetrated by each source of news reporting during the time in question. From these facts, it appears that the amount of publicity surrounding the murders was extensive and that evidence from three television stations, four newspapers, and three radio stations revealed that some news relating to these crimes reached a substantial number of homes in Hartford County.

For the most part, however, the publicity which surrounded this case occurred during the period immediately following the murders and at the time of the defendant's arrest. The crimes for which the defendant was indicted occurred on October 19, 1974, and the defendant was arrested on November 21, 1974. Consequently, the vast majority of the pretrial publicity occurred during the thirty-five day period from October 19, 1974 through November 22, 1974. 3

Moreover, the trial court concluded that the publicity was not inflammatory or discriminatory; it was free from sensationalism; and it was fair, accurate, and substantially factual. In his brief, however, the defendant points to specific instances of media coverage which he claims exemplify the prejudicial nature of the pretrial publicity surrounding this case. The following On the basis of the above, the defendant argues that the pretrial publicity in this case was "inherently prejudicial" or, in the alternative, "identifiably prejudicial" so as to render the trial court's denial of his motion for a change of venue constitutional error.

examples, which the defendant has taken from the trial court's limited finding, include: a television news broadcast, including film footage, of the funeral services of one of the victims which was telecast by Channel 3 4 on the 11 p.m. news on October 21, 1974; media coverage of news conferences, one of which was for the purpose of announcing the arrest of the defendant in connection with the murders; reports of statements made at one or more news conferences by police representatives and the state's chief medical examiner; 5 extensive media coverage, including news bulletins, regarding the arrest of the defendant while he was in court awaiting disposition on other charges; publication of a copy of a police photograph of the defendant in the New Britain Herald at the time of his arrest as well as other media transmittals of the defendant's picture; a report in the New Britain Herald, prior to the arrest of the defendant on murder charges, that he was being questioned in connection with the murders and was arrested on unrelated charges which were listed in the news account; media coverage of preliminary court proceedings including the setting of bonds for the defendant; one radio station's report quoting a candidate for governor referring to the murders [177 Conn. 685] as the "New Britain Bakery Massacre"; three newscasts on October 22, 1974, by a Hartford-based radio station which included speculation about a connection between the murders in question and a shooting in New Haven; and radio newscasts on November 22, 1974, quoting investigation sources concerning blood stains and the defendant and saying that the murders took place after a scuffle during which one of the perpetrators was recognized by his uncle, one of the victims. 6

We note, at the outset, that "(w)hen requesting a change of venue, the defendant has the burden of showing that he could not receive a fair and impartial trial. State v. Rogers, 143 Conn. 167, 172, 120 A.2d 409, cert. denied, 351 U.S. 952, 76 S.Ct. 850, 100 L.Ed. 1476; State v. Chapman, 103 Conn. 453, 470, 130 A. 899. . . . Furthermore, the court exercises its discretion in the decision as to whether a change of venue should be granted. State v. Rogers, supra, 143 Conn. 172, 120 A.2d 409; State v. Luria, 100 Conn. 207, 209, 123 A. 378." State v. Hart, 169 Conn. 428, 432-33, 363 A.2d 80. Notwithstanding the...

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