State v. Purcell

Decision Date04 July 2017
Docket NumberAC 38206
Citation166 A.3d 883,174 Conn.App. 401
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Robert John PURCELL

Richard Emanuel, for the appellant (defendant).

Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, and Seth R. Garbarsky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Alvord, Keller and Dennis, Js.

ALVORD, J.

The defendant, Robert John Purcell, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a jury trial, of conviction of one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53–21(a)(1) and of two counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53–21(a)(2).1 The jury found the defendant not guilty of one count of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–70(a)(1), two counts of sexual assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–71(a)(1), and one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53–21(a)(2). On appeal, the defendant raises various claims pertaining to testimony by the victim's mother2 that the victim had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD testimony) and the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress statements that he made to the police during a custodial interrogation. With respect to the PTSD testimony, the defendant claims that allowing the victim's mother to testify about his medical conditions constituted a harmful evidentiary error, which was based on the PTSD testimony. With respect to his motion to suppress, the defendant claims that the interrogating detectives violated Edwards v. Arizona , 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981), by continuing to question him after he clearly and unambiguously invoked his right to counsel. Alternatively, the defendant argues that, even if his invocations were ambiguous or equivocal, and therefore ineffective under Edwards , article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution required the interrogating detectives to clarify his statements before questioning him further. We reject the defendant's claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

On the basis of the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. In 2002, the victim's parents adopted the victim, who had several medical conditions, including autism.3 The defendant is the victim's uncle by marriage. The victim and his family had only a casual relationship with the defendant, whom they saw on average three to five times a year for holidays and family events. The victim initially viewed the defendant as "just an ordinary uncle," but, in 2010, when the victim was twelve and the defendant was seventy, the defendant began engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with the victim.

Three incidents in particular served as the basis for the defendant's conviction. In August, 2010, the victim, the defendant, and other family members went to lunch at a restaurant. After lunch, the defendant and the victim went to use the bathroom. While in the bathroom, the defendant began rubbing his penis and asked the victim to rub it. The victim refused, left the bathroom, and returned to the table where his family was sitting. In December, 2011, the victim and his father went to the defendant's house to visit his grandparents, who lived with the defendant and his wife. While the defendant and the victim's father spoke to the victim's grandfather in the basement apartment, the victim went upstairs to find the defendant's cats. The victim found one of the cats in the defendant's bedroom and began playing with it on the defendant's bed. Sometime thereafter, the defendant came into the bedroom and had contact with the victim's penis in a sexual and indecent manner. Finally, in August, 2013, the defendant and other members of the victim's family went to the victim's middle school to watch him perform in a school play. After the play, the defendant went to use the school bathroom, and the victim followed him inside so that he could remove his makeup. While in the bathroom, the defendant had contact with the victim's penis in a sexual and indecent manner.

In September, 2013, the victim's mother found pictures on the victim's Nintendo DS game console that concerned her, including pictures of the clothed stomachs of the defendant and the victim's father and two pictures of circumcised penises.4 The victim's mother deleted the penis pictures. Later, she told the victim's father about the pictures she found and asked him to talk to the victim about them. Two weeks later, on Saturday, September 28, 2013, the victim's father engaged in a discussion with the victim about his sexuality.5 The victim's father asked if the victim liked girls or boys, to which the victim replied that he liked girls. The victim's father explained that, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, it is bad and a sin to like boys and that sex should occur between a man and a woman. The victim then acknowledged that he had started to like and think about boys but maintained, "[i]t's not my fault." The victim told his father that the defendant "has been having sex with me."

The following Monday, September 30, 2013, after the victim left for school, the victim's parents went to the police station to report his allegation. While at the police station, the victim's parents received a phone call from the victim's school social worker informing them that the victim told him that his "Uncle Robert" was having sex with him.

The defendant was subsequently arrested on the basis of the victim's allegations. The operative long form information charged the defendant with seven offenses in connection with four separate incidents. Relative to the August, 2010 incident, the defendant was charged with risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53–21(a)(1). Relative to the December, 2011 incident, the defendant was charged with sexual assault in the first degree in violation of § 53a–70(a)(1) and risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53–21(a)(2). Relative to an incident that allegedly occurred in April, 2012, the defendant was charged with sexual assault in the second degree in violation of § 53a–71(a)(1) and risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53–21(a)(2). Finally, relative to the August, 2013 incident, the defendant was charged with sexual assault in the second degree in violation of § 53a–71(a)(1) and risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53–21(a)(2).

After a trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of the risk of injury counts with respect to the August, 2010, the December, 2011, and the August, 2013 incidents. The jury found the defendant not guilty of all counts of sexual assault and not guilty of the risk of injury count relative to the alleged incident in April, 2012. The defendant was sentenced to a total effective term of sixteen years of imprisonment, execution suspended after nine years, and ten years of probation. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

We begin with the defendant's claims pertaining to the PTSD testimony. The defendant claims that the PTSD testimony was hearsay and constituted a harmful nonconstitutional evidentiary error, and, therefore, the court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a mistrial. In particular, the defendant argues that the PTSD testimony "constituted an [improper] endorsement or confirmation of [the victim's] credibility—and the defendant's guilt," and improperly embraced an ultimate issue in the case, i.e., whether some or all of the events the victim described actually happened, thereby causing his PTSD. The defendant argues that the prejudicial nature of this evidence was beyond the curative powers of the court because the PTSD diagnosis related to the victim's credibility, which was crucial to a successful prosecution because the state's case lacked physical evidence of sexual assault and portions of the victim's testimony "were highly implausible." The state responds that the court's "clear and forceful curative instructions ... expressly broke any link between the PTSD diagnosis and the charges for which the defendant was on trial ... and expressly removed [the PTSD] testimony ... from evidence entirely." As a result, the state argues, the PTSD testimony did not constitute a harmful evidentiary error and the court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant's motion for a mistrial. We agree with the state.

The following additional facts are relevant to these claims. The victim's mother was the first witness as the trial commenced. She began her testimony by providing background on the victim and his medical conditions, including his autism. During a colloquy with the prosecutor about other medical conditions that the victim had been diagnosed with, defense counsel objected on the ground of hearsay. The court overruled the objection but admonished the victim's mother to limit her testimony to her understanding of her son's medical conditions and not to testify about what someone else told her. After further discussion about the victim's medical conditions, the following colloquy occurred:

"[The Prosecutor]: I think we're missing one or two other conditions, if the—if the court pleases.

"The Court: Okay. That's the question then. What other conditions?

"[The Prosecutor]: Fair enough.

"The Court: Yeah. Go ahead.

"[The Victim's Mother]: Okay. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which was a later diagnosis after why we're here. I'm trying to think what else was on there. I think that's—

"[The Prosecutor]: Well, let me ask you this.

"[The Victim's Mother]: Yeah. Okay.

"[The Prosecutor]: Does he take any meds currently?

"[The Victim's Mother]: Yes, he does.

"[The Prosecutor]: Okay. And what type of meds does he take?

"[The Victim's Mother]: I'm sorry. He takes Concerta for [attention deficit hyperactivity...

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7 cases
  • State v. Purcell
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • March 29, 2019
    ...his conviction of three counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21. See State v. Purcell , 174 Conn.App. 401, 405, 440, 166 A.3d 883 (2017). We conclude that the defendant's statements during interrogation did not meet Davis ' "clear and unequivocal" standa......
  • State v. Culbreath
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 18, 2021
    ...law, interrogating officers are not required to clarify ambiguous or equivocal references to an attorney." State v. Purcell , 174 Conn. App. 401, 428, 166 A.3d 883 (2017), rev'd, 331 Conn. 318, 203 A.3d 542 (2019) ; see also id., at 431, 166 A.3d 883 (The Appellate Court observed that this ......
  • State v. Culbreath
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 18, 2021
    ...to an attorney.'' State v. Purcell, 174 Conn.App. 401, 428, 166 A.3d 883 (2017), rev'd, 331 Conn. 318, 203 A.3d 542 (2019); see also id., 431 (The Appellate Court observed that court ‘‘has consistently held that our self-incrimination and due process clauses do not afford greater protection......
  • State v. Lopez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • October 31, 2017
    ...Conn. 190, 215, 152 A.3d 49 (2016). "Mere conjecture by the defendant is insufficient to rebut this presumption." State v. Purcell, 174 Conn.App. 401, 413, 166 A.3d 883 (2017). The defendant has the burden of establishing that Powers' testimony was so prejudicial that the jury cannot be pre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • A Survey of Criminal Law Opinions
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 91, June 2018
    • Invalid date
    ...[292] Id. [293] Id. at 362. [294] 164 Conn.App. 582, 137 A.3d 900 (2016). [295] Id. at 586. [296] Id. at 598. [297] Id. [298] Id. [299] 174 Conn.App. 401, 166 A.3d 883, cert. granted, 327 Conn. 959, 172 A.3d 800 (2017). [300] Id. at 416. [301] Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981); Maryla......
  • A Servey of Criminal Law Opinion
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 91, June 2018
    • Invalid date
    ...Id. [293] Id. at 362. [294] 164 Conn. App. 582, 137 A.3d 900 (2016). [295] Id. at 586. [296] Id. at 598. [297] Id. [298] Id. [299] 174 Conn. App. 401, 166 A.3d 883, cert, granted, 327 Conn. 959, 172 A.3d 800 (2017). [300] Id. at 416. [301] Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981); Maryland v......
  • 2017 Connecticut Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 91, June 2018
    • Invalid date
    ...143. [90] Id. at 252. [91] Id. at 269-70. [92] 170 Conn.App. 269, 154 A.3d 535, cert, denied, 324 Conn. 925, 155 A.3d 755 (2017). [93] 174 Conn.App. 401, 166 A.3d 883, cert, granted, 327 Conn. 959, 172 A.3d 800 (2017). [94] 176 Conn.App. 156, 164 A.3d 264, cert, granted, 327 Conn. 984, 175 ......

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