State v. Smith

Citation185 Conn. 63,441 A.2d 84
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Decision Date28 July 1981
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Lonnie SMITH.

Francis T. Mandanici, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, were Jerrold H. Barnett and Herbert J. Bundock, Public Defenders, for appellant (defendant).

Richard F. Jacobson, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Donald A. Browne, State's Atty., and Jonathan C. Benedict, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


BOGDANSKI, Chief Justice.

This case requires us to spell out several implications of the relationship between less culpable mental states and included offenses.

A two-count information originally charged the defendant with manslaughter in the first degree, General Statutes § 53a-55(a)(1), 1 and assault in the first degree, General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1). 2 Prior to trial the state filed a substitute information charging the defendant with manslaughter in the first degree, General Statutes § 53a-55(a)(3), 3 and assault in the first degree, General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(3), 4 thus charging, as to both offenses, reckless rather than intentional conduct. After listening to the testimony and the instructions and concluding their deliberations, the six-person jury found the defendant not guilty of manslaughter in the first degree and not guilty of assault in the first degree, but guilty of the respective lesser included offenses, manslaughter in the second degree, General Statutes § 53a-56(a)(1), 5 and assault in the second degree, § 53a-60(a)(3). 6 This appeal follows the trial court's denial of the defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial. The defendant contends that the trial court erred: (1) in ruling that sufficient evidence supported the jury's verdict; (2) in refusing to give the jury two instructions which the defendant had requested that they receive; (3) in allowing the state to proceed on a substitute information; (4) in denying the defendant's motion to suppress a knife and certain statements made by him; and (5) in admitting into evidence an autopsy picture.

From the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. In September 1978, Irene Curmon was living with the defendant on the first floor of a two-story tenement in Bridgeport. In the past, they had fought and argued and she had once come at him with a knife. Rosemary Mackin Nichols lived on the second floor. She had known the defendant for five or six years. At approximately 2 p. m. on September 11, 1978, the defendant was sober. Neither Nichols nor Curmon had fought with him that day. The defendant went to the second floor front porch and stayed there talking with Nichols, who had her baby son with her. While talking with Nichols, the defendant drank some whiskey and beer which he had purchased earlier that day at a liquor store. Curmon went up to the porch around an hour after the defendant. She was intoxicated and could hardly walk or stand. Curmon stayed for about five minutes and then left with the defendant. About twenty minutes later, Nichols heard Curmon, who had been arguing with the defendant, scream "Rosemary, James." Nichols picked up her son and went to the hallway, where she saw the defendant standing over Curmon, who was lying on the floor, bleeding. As soon as Nichols reached Curmon and started to bend down, the defendant wheeled around and stabbed Nichols' side. Immediately after he stabbed her, he said "all you women are alike." Because she did not know if she could get out the back door, Nichols backed up against the rear wall and asked the defendant not to hurt her baby. The defendant, who had followed her as she backed away, replied "I'm not going to hurt your baby, I'm going to hurt you." Nichols got past the defendant, without further incident, and went out the front door. The defendant followed her outside. Nichols went to the house next door and asked the people to call an ambulance. She then walked to the telephone on the corner and asked the police to send an ambulance. Before the police or the ambulance arrived, Trinidad Walker, who was driving by, pulled up and took Nichols and her baby to the hospital. As Nichols got into Walker's car the defendant stood nearby holding a five-inch kitchen knife from which blood dripped. Before the police arrived, the defendant returned to his apartment, washed his hands, washed the knife, placed it inside a box with a set of other knives, placed the box in a cupboard, and left the apartment, closing the door behind him.

At about 5 p. m. patrolmen Jeffrey Brown and Henry Austin were assigned to investigate the stabbing reports. When the police arrived at the building where the stabbings had occurred, the defendant was on the first floor front porch talking to some men. The police looked for the victim and found Curmon lying in the second floor hallway. She showed no sign of life. Austin checked her pulse and felt nothing. The officers assisted the ambulance crew in placing her on a stretcher and putting her into an ambulance. After the officers went back to the second floor to look for evidence, the defendant came up to Austin and said that he wanted to speak to him. The defendant and the officers went out to the second floor porch and the defendant said he was responsible for the stabbing. Thereupon, Austin read the defendant his Miranda rights and asked him if he understood them. The defendant replied that he understood. Austin then arrested the defendant and escorted him to the police car. Sometime before the officers placed the defendant in the car they had handcuffed him. In the car the officers asked him where he had left the knife he had used. At first he didn't tell them, but after the officers told him that it would be much better for him to cooperate, he told them that the knife was in his apartment and told them where the keys were. The defendant had no difficulty describing which of the four or five keys on his keychain unlocked the apartment door. Once inside the apartment, he told the officers that he had washed the knife and placed it back in a set of knives in the kitchen cabinet. The officers found the knife in the condition and location that the defendant had described. The defendant said that he had done it, that he knew he would have to do some time, and that he and Curmon had been arguing, drinking, and taking pills. After they checked on the assault victim at the hospital, the officers took the defendant to the police station, where detective Michael DeCarlo gave the defendant a waiver of rights form. The defendant read the form and handed it back. One of the officers then read the waiver form aloud and gave it to the defendant, who signed it. Sometime later DeCarlo asked if the defendant wanted to tell him what had happened. The defendant responded by admitting to DeCarlo that he had done it. The defendant said that he had argued with Curmon and had accidentally cut Nichols with his knife when she had come between them. He said that he couldn't recall where he had gotten the knife but he recalled taking it and washing it off afterwards. During the interview with DeCarlo the defendant cried and was remorseful. Later the defendant talked with his aunt and his cousin at the police station. He told them that he had done it, that he had not meant to accuse Nichols, and that he knew he would have to go to jail, but that it was just an unfortunate incident. At some time, the defendant told DeCarlo that Curmon always carried a knife or something.


The defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, at the close of both the state's case and all the evidence and also after the jury returned their verdict of guilty. The motions argued (1) that the state failed to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt a defense of mental disease or defect; (2) that the state failed to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt a defense of intoxication; 7 and (3) that the defendant's conduct so clearly manifested an intent to cause Curmon's death and to injure Nichols seriously that it excluded the possibility that a reasonable jury could find that he acted recklessly 8 with regard to those results.

The defendant asserts that the court erred in denying these motions. We will discuss the first two assertions together. The third, we will discuss in section IIA together with the defendant's request for an instruction on intent. The defendant does not contest the conclusion that he caused Curmon's death and seriously injured Nichols by stabbing them. His first two claims allege that the evidence so clearly showed such an impairment of his mental processes that a reasonable jury could not find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime the commission of which requires the offender to act recklessly.

"We have repeatedly stated the test which this court employs to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain a verdict: ' "(T)he issue is whether the jury could have reasonably concluded, upon the facts established and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, that the cumulative effect of the evidence was sufficient to justify the verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt ...." ' State v. Gaynor, --- Conn. ---, 438 A.2d 749 (42 Conn.L.J., No. 25, p. 25) (1980), quoting State v. Festo, 181 Conn. 254, 259, 435 A.2d 38 (1980); State v. Nemeth, --- Conn. ---, ---, 438 A.2d 120 (42 Conn.L.J., No. 23, pp. 3, 5) (1980); State v. Saracino, 178 Conn. 416, 419, 423 A.2d 102 (1979); State v. Jackson, 176 Conn. 257, 262, 407 A.2d 948 (1978). 'In ruling on such a motion, the evidence presented at the trial must be given a construction most favorable to sustaining the jury's verdict.' State v. Jackson, supra, 262, 407 A.2d 948; see State v. Nemeth, supra; State v. Chetcuti, 173 Conn. 165, 172, 377 A.2d 263 (1977). Each essential element of the crime charged must be...

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