State v. Weathers

Citation339 Conn. 187,260 A.3d 440
Decision Date28 May 2021
Docket NumberSC 20297
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Gregory L. WEATHERS
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Dina S. Fisher, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Timothy F. Costello, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, former state's attorney, and Emily Dewey Trudeau, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Ecker and Vertefeuille, Js.**

PALMER, J.

Following his election of and trial to a three judge court empaneled in accordance with General Statutes § 54-82 (a) and (b), the defendant, Gregory L. Weathers, was found guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), criminal possession of a pistol or revolver in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 53a-217c (a) (1), and carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 29-35 (a). In so finding, the trial court rejected the defendant's affirmative defense of mental disease or defect under General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 53a-13 (a)1 (insanity defense), concluding that, although the defendant demonstrated that he suffered from an unspecified psychotic disorder

at the time of the murder, he failed to prove the requisite connection between this condition and his criminal conduct. The trial court rendered judgment accordingly and sentenced the defendant to a total effective term of imprisonment of forty-five years. On appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction; see State v. Weathers , 188 Conn. App. 600, 635, 205 A.3d 614 (2019) ; and we granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the issue of whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the trial court's rejection of the defendant's insanity defense was reasonable. See State v. Weathers , 331 Conn. 927, 207 A.3d 518 (2019). The defendant claims that the state neither presented nor elicited evidence to undermine the consensus of his experts that the defendant, as the result of a mental disease, lacked substantial capacity to control his conduct within the requirements of the law, and, therefore, the trial court improperly rejected the experts’ opinions arbitrarily. He contends that the Appellate Court's conclusion to the contrary was not supported by legitimate reasons or evidence. We affirm the Appellate Court's judgment.

I

Because of the fact intensive nature of the evidentiary insufficiency claim raised by the defendant on appeal, we, like the Appellate Court, find it necessary to set forth the evidence adduced at trial in considerable detail. We begin with the Appellate Court's recitation of the facts that the trial court reasonably could have found in support of the judgment of conviction, which we have supplemented with additional relevant facts and procedural history. "On the morning of March 26, 2015, the victim, Jose Araujo, and several other individuals employed by Burns Construction were [in the process of backfilling a trench that had been dug along the side of the road for purposes of] installing an under-ground gas main on Pond Street in [the city of] Bridgeport. ... Matthew Girdzis, one of the crew members, was seated in a dump truck positioned near the trench. The victim was standing on the driver's side of the truck, speaking with Girdzis ....

"While the victim and Girdzis were talking, the defendant walked into the work zone and approached the victim. Girdzis had never seen the defendant there before; he was not an employee of Burns Construction. The defendant greeted the victim with a seemingly amicable ‘fist bump’ and asked the victim whether the construction company was hiring. The victim, in turn, relayed the question to Girdzis. Speaking to the defendant directly, Girdzis suggested that he go to the construction company's office ... to fill out an application and ‘see what happens.’ By all accounts, there was nothing unusual or remarkable about the defendant's demeanor during his initial interaction with the victim and Girdzis. There was nothing to suggest that ... the defendant harbored any animosity toward the victim or Girdzis. The defendant did not appear to be acting strangely; he appeared to be rational and to understand what was being said. [As one of the construction workers observed, however, the defendant kept his right hand in his pocket throughout the encounter.]

"Following this encounter, the defendant walked away, seemingly leaving the work zone, but, in fact, he merely walked around to the other side of the truck and stood near the passenger side door. Meanwhile, Girdzis and the victim had begun walking toward the trench. After a few seconds, the defendant looked up and down the street and, seeing the street empty, proceeded to walk back around the truck and reapproach the victim.2 In a matter of seconds, the defendant, without saying a word, removed a revolver from his pocket and shot the victim several times. The victim ultimately died from gunshot wounds.

"Immediately after the shooting, the defendant began running up the street, zigzagging across it several times. Several of the victim's coworkers chased the defendant on foot. The defendant, seeing that he was being pursued, stopped momentarily at a parked pickup truck and opened its door but then quickly shut it again and resumed running up the street. The coworkers continued chasing the defendant until he ran in between two houses.

"Members of the Bridgeport Police Department soon arrived on the scene and began canvassing the area. The defendant eventually was located by Officer Darryl Wilson, who found the defendant hiding in some tall bushes in a backyard. Wilson ordered the defendant to show his hands, at which point the defendant began to run. Wilson ordered the defendant to stop and again demanded that he show his hands. The defendant complied. Upon observing the revolver in the defendant's hand, Wilson ordered the defendant ... to drop the weapon and warned the defendant that he was prepared to shoot if the defendant did not comply. After [Wilson] repeat[ed] this order, the defendant dropped his weapon. Additional police units arrived a few seconds later, and the defendant was arrested. As he was being arrested, the defendant mumbled something to the effect of, ‘it's all messed up’ or ‘I messed up.’ "Following his arrest, the defendant was led out from behind the house and into the street, at which point Lieutenant Christopher LaMaine heard the defendant state spontaneously that he had been involved in a ‘labor dispute.’ When approached by LaMaine, the defendant again claimed that there had been a ‘labor dispute.’ After advising the defendant of his constitutional rights, which the defendant waived, LaMaine questioned him. The defendant seemed to have difficulty focusing, putting his thoughts together, and answering LaMaine's questions fully, and, at times, he rambled on incoherently, causing LaMaine to suspect that the defendant either had a mental illness or was under the influence of phencyclidine (PCP). Upon further questioning, the defendant stated that the victim was a foreman and was not ‘letting anyone out here work’ and that he had shot the victim to settle this dispute.

"[Thereafter] [t]he defendant ... was transported to the police station, where he was interviewed by Detective Paul Ortiz and another detective. As Ortiz observed, there were numerous instances throughout the interview [when] the defendant either entirely failed to respond to questions or gave less than responsive answers, [which was not an uncommon occurrence during an interrogation, but] some of his statements seemed disorganized. [A couple of times during the interview, the defendant said that he was ‘going crazy,’ and, at the end of the interview, said ‘I need help.’] Given his interactions with the defendant, Ortiz thought it was appropriate to have him evaluated at a hospital for possible mental health or drug problems.3 Nevertheless, the defendant appeared to understand the detectives’ questions.4 He admitted to shooting the victim and expressed remorse for it. He stated that he had been looking for a job and felt that the victim had ‘brushed [him] off.’ [He stated that he had not been employed ‘for a long time,’ more than one year, and that he needed to feed his family. His response to a question asking why he had shot the victim was, ‘I'm not working.’ When asked what the victim had done to make the defendant so angry, he responded: ‘Just ... going through stress. I just can't take it anymore. Been rough. Trying to find work. Sorry.’] Following the interview, the defendant was transported to Bridgeport Hospital for evaluation and, the next day, was remanded to the custody of the Commissioner of Correction [where he received further psychiatric evaluation]." (Footnotes added; footnotes omitted.) State v. Weathers , supra, 188 Conn. App. at 603–607, 205 A.3d 614.

The defendant subsequently raised the affirmative defense of insanity under § 53a-13 (a), claiming that he met both the volitional prong and the cognitive prong of that defense. "Under the cognitive prong [of the insanity defense], a person is considered legally insane if, as a result of mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity ... to appreciate the ... [wrongfulness] of his conduct. ... Under the volitional prong, a person also would be considered legally insane if he lacks substantial capacity ... to conform his conduct to the requirements of law."

(Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Madigosky , 291 Conn. 28, 39, 966 A.2d 730 (2009).

"In support of his affirmative defense, the defendant presented the testimony of two expert witnesses, David Lovejoy and Paul Amble, both of whom produced written evaluations that were admitted into evidence. Lovejoy, a board certified neuropsychologist hired by the defense, examined the defendant on three separate occasions in July, September, and ...

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7 cases
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 22 de julho de 2021
    ...finding, based on video recording, that defendant was not experiencing mental breakdown at time of crime), aff'd, 339 Conn. 187, ––– A.3d ––––, 2021 WL 2198917 (2021). Turning to the substantive question of voluntariness, because the totality of the circumstances test "depend[s] [on] a weig......
  • State v. Griffin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 22 de julho de 2021
    ...to trial court's finding, based on video recording, that defendant was not experiencing mental breakdown at time of crime), aff'd, 339 Conn. 187, A.3d Turning to the substantive question of voluntariness, because the totality of the circumstances test ‘‘depend[s] [on] a weighing of the circ......
  • Kaddah v. Comm'r of Corr.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • 26 de abril de 2022
    ...of the law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Weathers , 188 Conn. App. 600, 607, 205 A.3d 614 (2019), aff'd, 339 Conn. 187, 260 A.3d 440 (2021). On our careful review of the record, we conclude that there was not a reasonable probability that, but for the absence of an instruct......
  • Menard v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 25 de abril de 2023
    ...supra, 210-11. Thus, it is permissible for the trier of fact to entirely reject uncontradicted expert testimony as not worthy of belief. Id., 211. We also recognized, however, that the trier's discretion is not without limits. "[T]he trier's freedom to discount or reject expert testimony do......
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