State v. Schiappa

Citation728 A.2d 466,248 Conn. 132
Decision Date23 March 1999
Docket Number(SC 15696)
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer, McDonald and Peters, Js.1 Frederick W. Fawcett, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Jonathan C. Benedict, state's attorney, and C. Robert Satti, Jr., assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Elizabeth M. Inkster, assistant public defender, for the appellee (defendant).



After a jury trial, the defendant, Kim P. Schiappa, was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55 (a) (3)2 and hindering prosecution in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-166.3 The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury verdict,4 and the defendant appealed her manslaughter conviction to the Appellate Court,5 claiming, inter alia, that the trial court had improperly: (1) admitted a hearsay statement of Stephen Staffy after improperly concluding that Staffy was unavailable due to his purported lack of memory regarding the subject matter of the statement; and (2) allowed the jury to make a preliminary factual finding in connection with the determination of the admissibility of an adoptive admission by silence. The Appellate Court agreed with both of these claims and, accordingly, reversed the trial court's judgment as to the defendant's manslaughter conviction and remanded the case for a new trial on that count. State v. Schiappa, 44 Conn. App. 731, 692 A.2d 820 (1997). We granted the state's petition for certification to appeal limited to the two issues upon which the Appellate Court relied in reversing the defendant's manslaughter conviction.6 State v. Schiappa, 241 Conn. 908, 695 A.2d 541 (1997). Thereafter, pursuant to what is now Practice Book § 84-11,7 the defendant presented for review the following alternate grounds for affirming the judgment of the Appellate Court: (1) even if we conclude that the record supports the trial court's finding that Staffy was unavailable, the trial court nevertheless improperly admitted Staffy's out-of-court statement under our hearsay exception for statements against penal interest, which corresponds to Fed. R. Evid. 804 (b) (3);8 (2) the admission of Staffy's statement violated the defendant's rights under the confrontation clause of the sixth amendment to the United States constitution;9 (3) the trial court improperly instructed the jury on reasonable doubt; (4) the trial court failed to include certain language in its supplemental jury charge on first degree manslaughter, thereby depriving the defendant of her due process right to an adequately instructed jury; and (5) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the defendant's manslaughter conviction. Because we resolve the certified issues in favor of the state and reject the defendant's alternate grounds for affirmance, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court set forth the following relevant facts, which the jury reasonably could have found. "On December 11, 1991, the defendant, an employee at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, and a coworker, Stephen Staffy, met after work. They went to a liquor store and then to Staffy's house in Trumbull, where he lived with his roommate Gary Meier. The defendant and Staffy arrived at the house at approximately 5 p.m., when Meier, a bartender at the Huntington Inn, was leaving for work. The defendant and Staffy remained at the house, consumed alcohol and engaged in sexual intercourse. Sometime thereafter, they left the house and went to a few bars before stopping at the Huntington Inn, where they saw Meier. They left the Huntington Inn around 11 p.m. and drove to Bridgeport to purchase drugs. While in Bridgeport, they were confronted by the defendant's husband, James Schiappa [victim].

"Prior to confronting the defendant and Staffy, [the victim], who worked at the Country Home Bakery located in Bridgeport, was working the third shift from 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. [The victim] requested permission to leave work early, at about 12:50 a.m., because his son James, who was twelve years old, was home alone. Instead of going home, however, [the victim] went looking for his wife, the defendant. "As [the victim] approached the defendant and Staffy in his pickup truck, Staffy drove off and unsuccessfully attempted to evade him. [The victim] followed them into Saint John's cemetery in Stratford and, upon stopping, exited his pickup truck and approached Staffy's car. Staffy reached into the backseat of his car, grabbed a softball bat, exited his car and then proceeded to hit [the victim] numerous times with the bat. Staffy also kept a knife under the front seat of his car. [The victim] was stabbed in the neck and the back. The defendant and Staffy left the scene and drove back to Staffy's house.

"An employee of the Ella Grasso Center, located adjacent to the cemetery, heard noises coming from the area of the cemetery at approximately 1:10 a.m. The employee called her supervisor, Delores Evans, and told her what she had heard. After hearing more noises from the same area, Evans called the Stratford police at approximately 1:15 a.m. Officer Thomas Clements was dispatched to the location and, upon entering the cemetery, noticed a pickup truck. Clements exited his patrol car and observed a white male, later identified as [the victim], lying in front of the truck. He showed no signs of life.

"Meanwhile, Meier returned home from work and, before exiting his car, was approached by Staffy who said, `[t]urn off the lights, I just killed somebody.' As this was said, the defendant was standing behind Staffy. The defendant, Staffy and Meier went into the house and shortly thereafter Staffy, holding a pair of boots and a leather jacket, said to Meier, `[t]his stuff has to go.' Staffy put the boots, jacket and a knife in a sheath into a plastic bag and gave the bag to Meier, who took it to Juniper Ridge Road and threw it into a pond. He then returned home.

"The next day, a highway supervisor employed by the town of Trumbull noticed that the pond on Juniper Ridge Road was high and saw a garbage bag against the outflow pipe. He pulled the bag ashore and in the process ripped the bag. In the bag were a pair of boots, a leather jacket and a knife in a sheath. Detective Richard Yeomans of the Stratford police department was called to the pond and observed the contents of the bag, including a canceled check belonging to Staffy found in the jacket. The items were tested and the tests revealed a blood type matching that of [the victim] on the boots and the jacket." State v. Schiappa, supra, 44 Conn. App. 732-34. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.


We begin by addressing the first certified issue, namely, "[d]id the Appellate Court properly conclude that the requirement of the unavailability of the declarant was not met with respect to witness Stephen Staffy's statement?" State v. Schiappa, supra, 241 Conn. 908. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the state that, contrary to the conclusion of the Appellate Court, the record supports the trial court's finding of unavailability. Consequently, we also must consider the defendant's two alternate bases for excluding Staffy's statement, namely, that: (1) the statement is not admissible under the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest; and (2) even if admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule, the state's use of the statement would violate the defendant's confrontation clause rights. We reject the defendant's alternate claims.

The following additional facts and procedural history are necessary to our resolution of these issues. "After Meier tossed the plastic bag containing Staffy's leather jacket, boots and knife into the pond, he returned home and told Staffy to turn himself in to the police. Meier expressed concern to Staffy that the defendant would be caught and implicate Staffy in the crime. According to Meier, Staffy responded, `She's not going to say nothin'. She beat his ass too.'" State v. Schiappa, supra, 44 Conn. App. 734-35. Although Staffy testified that he recalled hitting the victim with a baseball bat, he could remember little else about the killing. Staffy also testified that he did not remember whether he had in fact made such a statement to Meier.

At trial, the state argued that Staffy's claimed memory loss rendered him unavailable and, furthermore, that the statement otherwise met the requirements of the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest. The defendant maintained that Staffy's memory loss regarding the killing in general and about the statement in particular did not render him unavailable for purposes of that hearsay exception and, in addition, that the statement did not otherwise qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule. The trial court agreed with the state and overruled the defendant's objection to Meier's testimony regarding Staffy's out-of-court statement.10 On appeal, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court had abused its discretion in finding that Staffy was unavailable and, consequently, concluded that Meier's testimony about the statement was inadmissible hearsay. In light of its determination that the trial court had improperly found Staffy to be unavailable, the Appellate Court did not address the defendant's alternate claims that the statement did not satisfy the requirements of the exception to the hearsay rule for statements against penal interest and that the admission of the statement would violate the defendant's rights under the confrontation clause.11 We consider each of these issues in turn.


We first address the Appellate Court's determination that the trial court improperly concluded that Staffy was unavailable. "It is necessary to the use of the penal interest exception that the...

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