State v. Shabazz, (SC 15617)

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation246 Conn. 746,719 A.2d 440
Decision Date08 September 1998
Docket Number(SC 15617)

246 Conn. 746
719 A.2d 440


(SC 15617)

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued March 17, 1998.

Officially released September 8, 1998.

Callahan, C. J., and Borden, Berdon, Norcott and Katz, JS.

246 Conn. 747
William F. Gallagher, with whom were Patricia A. King and, on the brief, Cynthia C. Bott, for the appellant (defendant)

Robert J. Scheinblum, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and John Waddock, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).



The principal issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly precluded the defendant from introducing evidence that gross medical negligence caused the victim's death. The defendant, Abdullah Shabazz, appeals1 from the trial court's judgment of conviction, following a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a.2 The defendant

246 Conn. 748
claims that the trial court improperly: (1) precluded him from introducing evidence that the gross medical negligence of the hospital that treated the victim caused the victim's death;3 (2) excluded evidence of the presence of the victim's family at the trial; (3) excluded expert evidence of the victim's character for violence, based on the presence in the victim's body of drugs and alcohol; (4) excluded the defendant's spontaneous utterance immediately after the incident; and (5) denied his motion to disqualify the trial judge. We affirm the judgment of the trial court

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On May 3, 1994, at approximately noon, the victim, Michael Stewart, had just completed using a pay telephone located on the New Haven green, when the defendant approached the bank of telephones and began to use one of them. The victim turned toward the defendant and said, "`Get off the phone. I beeped somebody.' " The defendant ignored the victim and began to

246 Conn. 749
dial. The victim then slapped the defendant in the face, the defendant punched the victim, and a fistfight ensued. As the fight quickly progressed, the victim tried to get away from the defendant, but the defendant would not let him go. Instead, the defendant produced a switchblade knife and, holding the victim so that he could not escape, repeatedly stabbed the victim. When the victim collapsed to the ground, the defendant paused momentarily and then continued to attack the victim with the knife while the victim was on the ground. The defendant then sat on top of the victim, who was not fighting back and was coughing and bleeding, and continued to stab him with the knife until a New Haven police officer arrived and disarmed the defendant

The victim was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he died approximately twelve hours later. An autopsy revealed stab wounds on the victim's face, the left side of his shoulder, the bottom of his left shoulder, his left arm, his forehead, his chest and his abdomen. With respect to the abdominal wound, the knife had passed through the abdominal wall and through the entire length of the liver, and there was also a second, separate wound on the liver. With respect to the chest wound, the knife had passed through the rib cage and punctured the lung. The victim died as a result of the stab wounds to his chest and abdomen.

At trial, the defendant raised three theories of defense. He claimed that he had acted in self-defense. This claim was based on his testimony, which is discussed in more detail in part III of this opinion. He also claimed, based on his testimony, that he had no intent to kill, and that the victim was stabbed accidentally as they tussled on the ground. Finally, the defendant claimed, primarily based on the expert testimony of James Merikangas, a physician certified in both neurology and psychiatry, that he was entitled to the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance so as to

246 Conn. 750
reduce his guilt to manslaughter. The jury rejected all of these theories of defense, and found the defendant guilty of murder. The trial court rendered judgment on the verdict accordingly. This appeal followed


The defendant first claims that the trial court improperly precluded him from introducing evidence that the gross negligence of the hospital caused the victim's death. We disagree.

It was undisputed that the victim had been admitted to the Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room at 12:24 p.m., on May 3, 1994, and that he arrived in the operating room at approximately 1 p.m., where he underwent surgery between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The victim was then placed in a postoperative recovery room, where he was monitored until approximately 7 p.m., after which he was placed in a postanesthesia care unit for a short period of time. Finally, the victim was placed in a regular floor room at approximately 8 p.m. The victim died early in the morning of May 4, 1994.

Before his first trial, the defendant filed a notice of intention to introduce expert medical testimony that the gross negligence of the hospital, rather than the defendant's conduct, caused the victim's death. The state filed a motion in limine to preclude any such evidence, based on the decision in State v. Jacobs, 194 Conn. 119, 479 A.2d 226 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1190, 105 S. Ct. 963, 83 L. Ed. 2d 968 (1985).

Pursuant to the motion in limine, the first trial court, Fracasse, J., held an evidentiary hearing. The defendant made the following evidentiary offer of proof. William Martin Stahl, a general surgeon specializing in trauma surgery, had examined the victim's death certificate, autopsy report and hospital records. Stahl testified that

246 Conn. 751
the hospital had been grossly negligent by: (1) administering 5000 units of heparin, an anticoagulant, to the victim immediately after the surgery; and (2) sending him from the postanesthesia unit to a regular room, rather than to an intensive care unit. In Stahl's opinion, the use of an anticoagulant was "contraindicated totally when you have a liver injury because you want the blood to clot. You don't want him to be anticoagulant." Further, in Stahl's opinion, the victim had bled to death, and had he been monitored in an intensive care unit "with vital signs done every fifteen minutes, watching his urine output every half hour, repeating his blood gases," his bleeding would have been disclosed. It was Stahl's opinion that had the hospital's conduct been proper, the victim would have had a "better than 90 percent chance" of surviving his liver injury. Stahl also testified, however, that without treatment the victim's stab wounds would have been fatal. Moreover, Stahl conceded that, of patients suffering from stab wounds to the liver, only 10 to 15 percent ordinarily are placed in intensive care following surgery.

The defendant also produced Cyril H. Wecht, a physician specializing in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology, who also had reviewed the death certificate, autopsy report and hospital records. Wecht testified that the victim's death was caused by cardiac arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart beat, precipitated by loss of blood, metabolic acidosis, drug abuse, the presence of morphine and cocaine, and an enlarged heart. Wecht agreed with Stahl that heparin should not have been administered to the victim, and that the failure to send him to intensive care, where he would have been more closely monitored, was grossly negligent, leading to his ultimate death. Wecht also testified, however, that it was the stab wounds to the victim's liver and heart that had caused the cardiac arrhythmia, which was the

246 Conn. 752
immediate cause of his death. In addition, Wecht testified that the medical charts indicated that heparin had not been administered to the victim. Wecht conceded, therefore, that heparin could not have contributed to the victim's death. Wecht testified further that postoperative recovery rooms similar to the victim's often are as good or better than intensive care units for purposes of closely monitoring a patient's vital signs, and that the victim's vital signs had been monitored regularly.

Judge Fracasse granted the state's motion in limine. Thereafter, at the defendant's trial, the trial court, Licari, J., agreed with Judge Fracasse's ruling, and adopted it as the law of the case.

In the state's case-in-chief, Malka Shah, an associate medical examiner of the state of Connecticut, who had performed the autopsy on the victim, testified that the victim had died as a result of stab wounds to his liver and left lung. She also testified that he had bled to death "[s]econdary to his injuries ...." When the defendant attempted to cross-examine her regarding the effect on the victim's demise as a result of the treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the trial court sustained the state's objection on the basis of the ruling on the state's motion in limine.

The defendant claims that these rulings were improper because: (1) our prevailing case law permits evidence of gross medical negligence as an intervening cause of death, the ultimate determination of which is for the jury; and (2) in the alternative, we should "adopt the rule that grossly negligent medical treatment is sufficient to break the chain of causation...."4 We are not persuaded by the defendant's argument.

246 Conn. 753
This claim is controlled by our decision in State v. Jacobs, supra, 194 Conn. 125-26. In that case, we thoroughly reviewed our case law on the question, and reiterated the generally recognized rule that "where death ensues from a dangerous wound inflicted upon another, it is ordinarily no defense that unskilled or negligent medical treatment aggravated the injury." Id., 124. Moreover, we noted that this rule was "in accord with the majority position in other states on this issue." Id. In addition, we specifically cited with approval the proposition that "where a wound, either operating directly or...

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    ...the defendant has pleaded guilty would be 90 years to be served in state prison." Penn, supra note 195. (288) See, e.g., State v. Shibazz, 719 A.2d 440, 444 (Conn. (289) Criminal Justice Strategy, MACARTHUR FOUND. (Jan. 18, 2021), (290) See generally ILIANA PAUL ......

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