State v. Ricardo Collins., 18297.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation10 A.3d 1005,299 Conn. 567
Decision Date05 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 18297.,18297.
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Ricardo COLLINS.
10 A.3d 1005
299 Conn. 567

STATE of Connecticut
Ricardo COLLINS.

No. 18297.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued April 26, 2010.
Decided Jan. 5, 2011.*

10 A.3d 1008

Adam E. Mattei, special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, Jonathan C. Benedict, former state's attorney, and Howard S. Stein, assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Pamela S. Nagy, special public defender, for the appellee (defendant).



299 Conn. 569

The principal issue in this certified appeal is whether the trial court properly admitted, under § 4-5 of the Connecticut Code of Evidence,1 uncharged misconduct evidence concerning the defendant's involvement in a prior shooting using the same gun that was the murder weapon in the present case. The state appeals, upon our grant of its petition for certification,2 from the judgment of the Appellate Court

299 Conn. 570
reversing the judgment of conviction of the defendant, Ricardo Collins, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c and robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a)(2). State v. Collins, 111 Conn.App. 730, 961 A.2d 986 (2008). The state claims that the Appellate Court improperly determined that the trial court had abused its discretion by admitting evidence of the defendant's involvement in the earlier nonfatal shooting of Stephen Rose, his cousin's husband (Rose shooting).
10 A.3d 1009
The defendant contends otherwise, and also posits, as alternative grounds for affirming the judgment of the Appellate Court, that the trial court improperly: (1) instructed the jury that the adequacy of the police investigation was not at issue in the case; and (2) determined that he had waived his right to counsel knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently. We reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The record reveals the following relevant facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history, much of which are set forth in the opinion of the Appellate Court.3 "The [murder] victim, Calvin Hopkins, 4 and his former girlfriend, Quiana Staton, jointly operated a 'business' in which Staton sold marijuana and Hopkins sold crack cocaine. At approximately 10:30 on the night of December 2, 2002, Hopkins went to Staton's Bridgeport apartment in a public housing

299 Conn. 571
project known as the Greens. He came to the apartment carrying a large 'wad of cash' and retrieved an additional $500 to $600 from Staton's safe. Staton testified that Hopkins intended to use the money to purchase additional crack cocaine. Hopkins left Staton's apartment with the money at approximately 12 a.m. on the morning of December 3, 2002. He spoke to Staton on his cellular telephone approximately one hour later from his car in the parking lot of the apartment complex. During that conversation, Staton looked from her window to see Hopkins in his car talking to two unknown individuals. Staton later attempted to call Hopkins' cellular telephone at approximately 2 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. but received no answer to either of those calls.

"Later that morning, at approximately 7:15, Bridgeport police were dispatched to a scene a short distance from Staton's apartment complex where a green sedan was parked in the road preventing a school bus from passing. Upon opening the door to the vehicle, the police discovered Hopkins 'reclined in the front seat with his head leaning back and what appeared to be a large amount of blood in the interior of the vehicle.'

"At the scene, a physician from the medical examiner's office recovered a bullet shell casing from Hopkins' collar, and the currency that Hopkins had been carrying in the earlier hours of the morning was not found on his body. Two anomalous fingerprints were found on the vehicle: the defendant's fingerprint was found on the exterior of the rear driver's side door and that of another individual, Anthony Berrios, was found on the exterior of the front passenger door. An autopsy later revealed that Hopkins died from a gunshot wound to the head, and bullet fragments were recovered from his head.

"The defendant became a suspect in this case because of his involvement in the [Rose shooting] in August,

299 Conn. 572
2002. A firearms examiner testified at trial that the shell casing recovered from Hopkins' collar at the scene of the homicide was fired from the same weapon that had been used in
10 A.3d 1010
the [Rose shooting]." Id., at 732-34, 961 A.2d 986.

"The defendant turned himself in to the Bridgeport police in January, 2003, for the Rose shooting. During the course of the police questioning, the defendant admitted to shooting Rose [with a chrome and black nine millimeter handgun] but also indicated that he had since sold the gun.5 ... While in police custody for

299 Conn. 573
the Rose shooting, the defendant was also questioned with regard to the Hopkins homicide. In his statement to police, the defendant admitted meeting with Hopkins in his car to purchase drugs during the night of December 2, 2002, but denied killing him." (Citation omitted.) Id., at 735, 961 A.2d 986.

The jury reasonably could have found the following additional facts demonstrating, however, that the defendant did not actually dispose of the chrome and black

10 A.3d 1011
nine millimeter handgun that he had used in the Rose shooting and, indeed, used it to kill Hopkins in the course of robbing him. Specifically, Ryshon Penix, the defendant's cousin, also lived in the Greens housing project. When the defendant visited him there on November 28, 2002, several days before Hopkins' death, both Penix and Ivan Ramos, his roommate, noticed
299 Conn. 574
that the defendant had with him a chrome and black handgun. Further, Kimberly Finney, who had been incarcerated with the defendant at the Bridgeport correctional center, testified that the defendant had confessed to him in a conversation in the dayroom there that he had murdered Hopkins while robbing him. Finney testified specifically that the defendant, while evading the police investigation of the Rose shooting, had unsuccessfully attempted to support himself by selling drugs in the Greens housing project, turned to robbery instead, and elected to rob Hopkins because the defendant, who had purchased drugs from Hopkins before, had seen him with a lot of money. After arranging to meet with Hopkins, ostensibly to purchase drugs, the defendant then attempted to rob Hopkins in his car, and shot him when Hopkins resisted. The defendant told Finney that he had turned himself in for the Rose shooting in an attempt to avoid being considered a suspect in the Hopkins case, figuring that "he [would] never become a suspect in the [Hopkins] case because he had been in jail already."

"The defendant's initial trial for Hopkins' murder was declared a mistrial after the jury returned deadlocked. At the subsequent trial,6 which resulted in the conviction, from which the defendant appeals, the state sought to introduce evidence of the defendant's role in the Rose [shooting], to which the defendant objected.7 The defendant, who was representing himself at the time, argued that any testimony regarding the Rose shooting would be 'highly prejudicial' and of little probative value. He further argued that '[t]he state ... has me

299 Conn. 575
testifying that I had a gun and it got other evidence, and I was convicted of it, and I really don't see a need for this testimony here because ... it would inflame the jury.... I'm on trial right now for this murder case, and it's a shooting case. It's two shooting cases. And if they was to bring [Rose], I think ... no matter what your instruction would be to the jury ... that it still would be lingering in them that somebody got shot. And I would ask that you not allow it in.'

"The court determined that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its potential for unfair prejudice; see Conn.Code Evid. § 4-3; 8 and overruled the defendant's objection. It did, however, instruct the jury that the evidence could not be used to infer bad character of the defendant or his tendency to commit criminal acts. The defendant later objected to similar testimony, which was also overruled.

"During deliberations, the jury twice communicated to the court that it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict as to one of the counts charged. After each

10 A.3d 1012
communication from the jury, the court instructed it to continue its deliberations, the second time giving a formal Chip Smith instruction. 9 The jury eventually returned a verdict of guilty of murder, felony murder and robbery in the first degree on March 21, 2006. The court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict, and the defendant was sentenced to forty-five years in prison on the merged counts of murder and felony murder and ten years on the count of robbery
299 Conn. 576
in the first degree." State v. Collins, supra, 111 Conn.App. at 735-36, 961 A.2d 986.

The defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court, claiming, inter alia,10 that the introduction of evidence concerning his involvement in the Rose shooting deprived him of a fair trial because its prejudice to the defense exceeded its probative value. Id., at 737, 961 A.2d 986. The Appellate Court agreed, concluding that the trial court had abused its discretion by admitting the uncharged misconduct evidence. Id., at 743-44, 961 A.2d 986. The Appellate Court further concluded that the defendant had proven that the improper admission of this evidence was harmful, given the lack of direct evidence linking him to Hopkins' death and multiple reports of jury deadlock in this case. Id., at 744, 961 A.2d 986. Accordingly, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment of conviction and ordered a new trial. Id. This certified appeal followed. See footnote 2 of this opinion.


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