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State v. Edwards

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 27, 1990

STATE of Connecticut
Ross Blaine EDWARDS.

Argued Dec. 14, 1989.

Page 194

[214 Conn. 59] Kent Drager, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was G. Douglas Nash, Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John M. Bailey, State's Atty., and Lawrence Daly, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is the sufficiency of the evidentiary foundation for the request of a defendant, charged with having committed the crime of murder, that the jury be instructed on the lesser included nonintentional homicides of manslaughter in the first and second degrees and criminally negligent homicide. A jury found the defendant, Ross Blaine Edwards, guilty of the murder of his sister,

Page 195

in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. [1] The defendant has appealed from the judgment of the trial court sentencing him to a term of life imprisonment. We find error and remand for a new trial.

[214 Conn. 60] The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. The defendant was living in his sister's East Hartford apartment, following his release from a New Jersey hospital after a suicide attempt. On the evening of September 17, 1986, he remained in the apartment while she went to work. After her departure, having gotten "high" on cocaine, marijuana and beer, he decided to search for his sister's gun in order to commit suicide. Ultimately successful in this search, he brought the loaded weapon into the spare room where he had been sleeping, sat down and held the gun to his chest. When his sister, upon her return from work, discovered him with the gun, she attempted to disarm him. In the ensuing struggle for the gun, she was fatally shot. After ascertaining that his sister was dead, the defendant unplugged the telephone, undertook various measures to conceal her body, and took some of her money and jewelry, including gold necklaces that she had been wearing. The next morning, he left for New Jersey, where he subsequently was apprehended, wearing her jewelry.

The East Hartford police found the victim's body on September 19, 1986, in response to a complaint from the manager of her apartment complex. The body, wrapped in a white sheet, was buried beneath various articles of clothing, bed linens and a mattress. The officers also found drug paraphernalia, a man's clothing, and papers identifying the defendant.

An autopsy of the body revealed a bullet wound to the head, the bullet entering two inches behind the left ear and exiting at the right temple area. The apparent absence of gun powder grains near the wound indicated that the gun was at least 36 inches away from the victim's head when fired, although the flow of blood [214 Conn. 61] and the possible movement of the body provided an alternative explanation. [2]

At trial, the principal issue was the defendant's state of mind at the time of the shooting, because he admitted having killed his sister. He maintained, however, that he had lacked the specific intent to commit murder, because the shooting had occurred in an accidental struggle for possession of his sister's gun while he was intoxicated and suicidal. Accordingly, the defendant filed procedurally proper requests for the jury to be charged on his defense of intoxication as a defense to first degree murder and on the lesser included offenses of first degree manslaughter pursuant to General Statutes

Page 196

§ 53a-55(a)(3), [3] second degree manslaughter pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-56(a)(1), [4] and criminally negligent homicide pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-58(a). [5] The trial court gave the requested charge on intoxication as relevant to specific intent, but refused to charge on the lesser included offenses on the ground that no evidence had been presented at trial to support those charges. The jury found the defendant guilty of murder as charged.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in: (1) denying his request to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses; (2) denying his motions to [214 Conn. 62] suppress evidence seized illegally; and (3) sustaining the state's objection to the testimony of a defense psychiatrist. Because we find error in the first of these trial court rulings, we will consider the others only insofar as they are likely to be implicated in a new trial. [6]


We consider first whether the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury as to the lesser, nonintentional homicides included within the crime of murder. Although the defendant sought an acquittal based on a defense of accidental death, he nonetheless requested that the jury additionally be instructed on the lesser included offenses within the crime of murder. He maintained that the jury could reasonably find that his struggle with his sister over the loaded gun amounted to criminal recklessness or negligence as prohibited by the nonintentional homicide statutes. The trial court ruled to the contrary, accepting the state's contention that, on the evidence Before it, the jury could arrive at only one of two verdicts, conviction of murder as charged, or acquittal on the ground of accident. We disagree with this ruling.

The law of lesser included offenses is a common law doctrine that requires a defendant to demonstrate his compliance with the four conditions stated in State v. Whistnant, 179 Conn. 576, 588, 427 A.2d 414 (1980): "(1) an appropriate instruction is requested by either the state or the defendant; (2) it is not possible to commit the greater offense, in the manner described in the [214 Conn. 63] information or bill of particulars, without having first committed the lesser; (3) there is some evidence, introduced by either the state or the defendant, or by a combination of their proofs, which justifies conviction of the lesser offense; and (4) the proof of the element or elements which differentiate the lesser offense from the offense charged is sufficiently in dispute to permit the jury consistently to find the defendant innocent of the greater offense but guilty of the lesser." State v. Herring, 210 Conn. 78, 104-105, 554 A.2d 686, cert. denied, 492 U.S. 912, 109 S.Ct. 3230, 106 L.Ed.2d 579 (1989); State v. Green, 207 Conn. 1, 11, 540 A.2d 659 (1988). The trial court expressly found that the defendant had satisfied the first two conditions of the Whistnant test. As to the first, his request for jury instructions on the lesser included offenses met the standards articulated by this court in State v. McIntosh, 199 Conn. 155, 158-61, 506 A.2d 104 (1986). As to the second, this court has often reaffirmed that manslaughter in the first and second degrees and criminally negligent homicide are lesser included offenses within the crime of murder. State v. Herring, supra, 210 Conn. at 105 n. 25, 554 A.2d 686; State v. Rodriguez, 180 Conn. 382, 407, 429 A.2d 919 (1980); see General Statutes § 53a-45(c).

The defendant has likewise complied with the fourth condition of Whistnant, that "the elements ...

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