State v. White

Decision Date20 September 2022
Docket NumberAC 44242
Citation215 Conn.App. 273,283 A.3d 542
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Keemo WHITE
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Rocco A. Chiarenza, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Sharmese L. Walcott, state's attorney, and Anthony Bochicchio, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Bright, C. J., and Cradle and Seeley, Js.

BRIGHT, C. J.

The defendant, Keemo White, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of being an accessory to assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-8 (a) and 53a-59 (a) (5). On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of assault in the first degree as an accessory, and (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury by omitting an essential element of the offense, namely, the defendant's intent or knowledge that the principal would discharge a firearm during the offense.1 We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, which reasonably could have been found by the jury, and procedural history inform our review of the defendant's claims. On the evening of July 24, 2017, Anna Kistoo (Anna), Lisa Sattaur, and Michael Gordon drove to Sigourney Street in Hartford to locate Anna's sister, Melissa Kistoo (Melissa), who was dating the defendant. Anna suspected that Melissa "was getting [beaten] up by [the defendant]" and wanted to check on her. They took two separate cars, with Anna and Sattaur in one car and Gordon in the other. Upon arriving, Gordon parked in front of 196 Sigourney Street. Anna and Sattaur parked on a cross street. Anna and Sattaur then searched the mailboxes of several apartment buildings and eventually found Melissa's name on a mailbox for one of the apartments. Anna and Sattaur approached what they believed to be Melissa's apartment while Gordon, who had joined the two women in the building, remained on the staircase leading up to the floor where the apartment was located.

The defendant arrived shortly thereafter and walked past where Gordon was standing on the staircase, at which point the two nodded at each other. Upon seeing the defendant, Anna approached him and asked where her sister was. About ten to fifteen seconds later, the interaction devolved into a physical altercation. During the "tussle," a gun fell from the defendant's pocket onto the floor. Gordon, who was still standing on the steps, saw the gun on the floor and yelled to Anna and Sattaur "to run to the car [because] there was a gun in the hallway." The defendant then exited the building via the back door and ran to the parking lot across the street, where he conferred with a male acquaintance.

After the altercation, Gordon, Sattaur, and Anna also ran out of the back door of the building and returned to Gordon's car, as it was the closest. Thereafter, the defendant and his acquaintance, who was holding a firearm, ran from the parking lot across the street toward Gordon's car. Gordon observed the defendant and his acquaintance running toward his car and attempted to start the car, but it would not start. While Gordon, Sattaur, and Anna were inside Gordon's car, the defendant and his acquaintance together attempted to open the driver's side door and pull Gordon from the car. While this was happening, Gordon and Anna observed that the acquaintance had a gun in his hand. Gordon then raised his hands and yelled that he "didn't do nothing" and did not "have anything, don't shoot, don't shoot." The defendant and the acquaintance eventually were able to open Gordon's door, at which point Gordon exited the car and attempted to flee but was shot in the hip by the defendant's acquaintance.2 Shortly after Gordon was shot, Sattaur was able to start Gordon's car. Sattaur and Anna then drove to where Gordon was lying on the ground, picked him up, and drove him to Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

After Gordon was admitted to the hospital, Anna and Sattaur were accompanied by responding officers to the police station to give statements. On July 25, 2017, Gordon, Sattaur, and Anna each separately identified the defendant from a photographic array, but the individual who shot Gordon was never identified or apprehended. The state charged the defendant as an accessory to assault in the first degree in violation of §§ 53a-8 (a) and 53a-59 (a) (5), and with conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-59 (a) (5). The case was tried to a jury over the course of three days, beginning on September 16, 2019.

Following the trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of assault in the first degree by means of a firearm as an accessory and not guilty of the conspiracy charge. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, a motion to set aside the verdict, and a motion for a judgment of acquittal. The court denied the motions and sentenced the defendant to fifteen years of incarceration, execution suspended after seven and one-half years, followed by three years of probation. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

I

On appeal, the defendant claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of being an accessory to assault in the first degree. He argues that "[his] actions that day did not show that he intended to physically injure Gordon. Nor did they show that [he] intended the principal use a firearm." We are not persuaded.

The standard of review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is well settled. "[A] defendant who asserts an insufficiency of the evidence claim bears an arduous burden. ... [F]or the purposes of sufficiency review ... we review the sufficiency of the evidence as the case was tried .... [A] claim of insufficiency of the evidence must be tested by reviewing no less than, and no more than, the evidence introduced at trial. ... In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we apply a two part test. First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the [jury] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt .... This court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the jury if there is sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. ...

"[T]he jury must find every element proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the defendant guilty of the charged offense, [but] each of the basic and inferred facts underlying those conclusions need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. ... If it is reasonable and logical for the jury to conclude that a basic fact or an inferred fact is true, the jury is permitted to consider the fact proven and may consider it in combination with other proven facts in determining whether the cumulative effect of all the evidence proves the defendant guilty of all the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. ... Moreover, it does not diminish the probative force of the evidence that it consists, in whole or in part, of evidence that is circumstantial rather than direct. ... It is not one fact ... but the cumulative impact of a multitude of facts which establishes guilt in a case involving substantial circumstantial evidence. ... In evaluating evidence, the [jury] is not required to accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant's innocence. ... The [jury] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence [that] it deems to be reasonable and logical. ...

"[O]n appeal, we do not ask whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the jury's verdict of guilty." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Raynor , 175 Conn. App. 409, 424–26, 167 A.3d 1076 (2017), aff'd, 334 Conn. 264, 221 A.3d 401 (2019).

The defendant in the present case was charged with assault in the first degree by means of a firearm as an accessory in violation of §§ 53a-8 and 53a-59 (a) (5). "[F]or the purposes of determining criminal liability, it is of no consequence whether one is labeled an accessory or a principal." State v. Hines , 89 Conn. App. 440, 447, 873 A.2d 1042, cert. denied, 275 Conn. 904, 882 A.2d 678 (2005). Thus, "to establish a person's culpability as an accessory to a particular offense, the state must prove that the accessory, like the principal, had committed each and every element of the offense." State v. Patterson , 276 Conn. 452, 483, 886 A.2d 777 (2005).

Section 53a-59 (a) provides in relevant part: "A person is guilty of assault in the first degree when ... (5) with intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person by means of the discharge of a firearm." Thus, "to prove a person guilty as a principal of assault in the first degree [under § 53a-59 (a) (5) ], the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the person caused physical injury to another person; (2) that he did so while acting with the intent to cause physical injury to the other person or a third person; and (3) that he caused such physical injury to the other person by means of the discharge of a firearm." State v. Raynor , supra, 175 Conn. App. at 427, 167 A.3d 1076.

"[A] conviction under § 53a-8 requires [the state to prove the defendant's] dual intent ... [first] that the accessory have the intent to aid the principal and [second] that in so aiding he intend to commit the offense with which he is charged. ... Additionally, one must knowingly and wilfully assist the...

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