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State v. Northrop

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 9, 1990

STATE of Connecticut

Argued Nov. 3, 1989.

Page 440

[213 Conn. 406] Antonio B. Braz, with whom was Scott P. Moser, Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Carolyn K. Longstreth, Asst. State's Atty., with whom were Patrick Clifford, Asst. State's Atty., and, on the brief, Michael Dearington, State's Atty., for appellee (State).


CALLAHAN, Justice.

The defendant, Scott Northrop, was charged with the crime of murder in violation of General Statutes ยง 53a-54a. [1] He was tried to a jury and consvicted. [213 Conn. 407] The trial court subsequently sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of forty-five years. The defendant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction. He claims, rather, that the trial court erred in failing to suppress statements he made to the New Haven police and in failing to suppress tangible evidence derived therefrom. He also claims that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial because of the impropriety of the state's closing argument.

The record reveals that the charge against the defendant arose out of the murder of Edward DuPaul, a thirty-four year old New Haven fireman, who was shot to death at approximately 11:15 p.m. on May 18, 1987, as he sat in his automobile talking to Mary Ann Shusta, while parked on a dirt road in a marshy area of New Haven near the New Haven-East Haven border. While the victim and Shusta were conversing, a person wearing dark clothing approached

Page 441

the driver's side of DuPaul's car and fired three shots from a .38 caliber revolver into the victim's head and body through the driver's side window. DuPaul died the following afternoon in a New Haven hospital.

[213 Conn. 408] On May 19, 1987, in the course of their investigation of the incident, New Haven detectives learned that the defendant had been seen the previous night, with a pistol in his possession, at a convenience store near the site of the shooting. Consequently, that evening, Detective James Ponteau, with two East Haven police officers, went to the defendant's residence at 29 Stoddard Road in East Haven to talk to him. The house at 29 Stoddard Road, where the defendant lived with his grandmother and aunt, is near the dirt road where the shooting occurred.

At the house Ponteau informed the defendant that the police wished to talk to him because they were investigating a shooting that had taken place the previous night in New Haven and that they had a report that he had been seen with a gun prior to the shooting, at a store in the area. The defendant told the detective that he had indeed been at the store but he denied having a gun or having anything to do with the shooting.

After this brief exchange, at Ponteau's request, the defendant agreed to go with the detective to New Haven police headquarters to give a statement. The defendant's aunt, Georgeann Pecoraro, asked to accompany her nephew, and Ponteau agreed. Thereafter, the three drove to New Haven in Ponteau's unmarked police car, the defendant in the front passenger seat and his aunt in the rear. The defendant was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained during the trip.

At police headquarters the defendant was taken to an interview room while his aunt, despite her expressed desire to remain with the defendant, was directed to sit in another area of the detective bureau. [2] Ponteau and the defendant were joined in the interview room at approximately 7 p.m. by Detective Mel Cartocetti. [213 Conn. 409] Cartocetti introduced himself to the defendant and informed him that he was not under arrest and that he could leave police headquarters whenever he wished to do so. Cartocetti, thereafter, read the defendant his Miranda rights [3] and then explained them to him sentence by sentence. The defendant stated that he understood his rights and that he was willing to give a statement. He then signed a printed waiver of rights form.

Cartocetti and Ponteau thereafter conversed with the defendant for approximately thirty-five or forty minutes about his activities on May 18. Subsequently, a tape recorder was activated and Cartocetti again read the defendant his Miranda rights. He then interviewed the defendant on tape concerning the events of the previous night. During the recorded interview the defendant reiterated that he had been at the convenience store on the night of May 18 but denied having a gun or having anything to do with the shooting. He also acknowledged during the taped interview that he had come to the police station voluntarily to try to assist the police, that he understood all the questions, that he had been treated fairly, that he knew he was not under arrest, that he was not kept against his will, and that he had been told he could stop and walk out of headquarters at any time. Further, he refused to undergo a polygraph examination or consent to a search of his residence. At the conclusion of the interview at approximately 9:15 p.m., Cartocetti drove the defendant and his aunt to their house in East Haven.

After driving the defendant and his aunt home, Cartocetti parked 75 to 100 feet away and remained in his car. In approximately fifteen minutes, he received a radio call informing him that a search warrant had been [213 Conn. 410] issued for the residence of the defendant at 29 Stoddard Road. At that point he left his car, approached a side door

Page 442

of the house and informed the defendant's grandmother and aunt, who were inside, that a warrant had been procured to search their home and that it would be executed shortly. Although invited in, he chose to remain on the porch and await the arrival of other officers. Other detectives and uniformed officers were on the scene shortly. When the search warrant arrived at about 10 p.m., a copy was given to the defendant's grandmother and a search was commenced.

Shortly after the search was under way, Detective Sergeant Michael Sweeney arrived at the premises and asked the defendant if he would walk outside and speak with him. The defendant agreed to do so and he and Sweeney walked down the driveway towards Sweeney's unmarked car. During this time Sweeney did not search the defendant or restrain him in any manner, and he did, once again, advise him of his Miranda rights. When the two arrived at Sweeney's car the defendant agreed to speak with Sweeney but declined his invitation to sit in the automobile.

Standing next to the car, Sweeney asked the defendant if he had shot the victim. The defendant denied doing so but displayed no reluctance to discuss the incident. After a short period the defendant left Sweeney and unaccompanied went back into the house to obtain a jacket. When he returned he continued the ...

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