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State v. Carpenter

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 27, 1990

STATE of Connecticut
Richard T. CARPENTER, Jr.

Argued Dec. 6, 1989.

Page 204

[214 Conn. 78] John R. Williams, New Haven, for appellant (defendant).

Mitchell S. Brody, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was Michael Dearington, State's Atty., for appellee (State).


CALLAHAN, Associate Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether the state presented sufficient evidence to justify a guilty verdict. The defendant Richard T. Carpenter was convicted by a jury of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. [1] Subsequently, he filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, which was denied, and he was sentenced by the trial court to a prison term of fifty years.

The defendant's appeal raises two issues, a substantive challenge of evidentiary insufficiency and a procedural challenge of voir dire irregularity. We find error as to the former but not as to the latter.


"When an appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to justify a verdict of guilty, we have a two-fold task. We first review the evidence presented at the trial, construing it in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. State v. Cimino, 194 Conn. 210, 211, 478 A.2d 1005 (1984); State v. Ferrell, 191 Conn. [214 Conn. 79] 37, 46, 463 A.2d 573 (1983). We then determine whether ' "the jury could have reasonably concluded, upon the facts established and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, that the cumulative effect of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." ' State v. Stepney, 191 Conn. 233, 255, 464 A.2d 758 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1084, 104 S.Ct. 1455, 79 L.Ed.2d 772, reh. denied, 466 U.S. 954, 104 S.Ct 2163, 80 L.Ed.2d 547 (1984); State v. Duhan, 194 Conn. 347, 355, 481 A.2d 48 (1984)." State v. Braxton, 196 Conn. 685, 691, 495 A.2d 273 (1985); State v. Rollinson, 203 Conn. 641, 665-66, 526 A.2d 1283 (1987); State v. Arnold, 201 Conn. 276, 282, 514 A.2d 330 (1986). " 'In this process of review, 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.' State v. Sinclair, 197 Conn. 574, 576, 500 A.2d 539 (1985), and cases there cited." State v. Rollinson, supra, 203 Conn. at 666, 526 A.2d 1283.

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. The victim in this case, Cassandra Demming, an eighteen month old baby, had been in the custody of the defendant and his wife since September 15, 1987, because the baby's mother was incarcerated. On December 31, 1987, the baby was suffering from a cold and diarrhea. Around noon of that day, the defendant left the baby in the care of a teenage relative and went out for the evening. The babysitter spent the night at the Carpenters' home.

The next morning, when the babysitter awoke, he heard the baby crying. He immediately went to her room and noticed that she had vomited in her crib. The baby was sick all that day, suffering from congestion and diarrhea. The babysitter stayed with the baby until some members of the Carpenter family returned to the

Page 205

house at approximately 4:15 p.m., January 1, 1988, New Year's Day. The defendant did not return until [214 Conn. 80] around 5 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the babysitter and some other family members left. When the baby's grandfather, Norman Demming, left at approximately 6:30 p.m. the defendant was alone with the baby who was lying in her crib. At 6:42 p.m., the defendant called the fire department and reported that the baby was having difficulty breathing. When the firefighters arrived, the defendant was outside waiting for them. He directed them to the bathroom where they found the baby unconscious and covered with vomit in the bathtub. James Kenny, a Wallingford firefighter, quickly checked the baby, picked her up and started mouth to mouth resuscitation. As the firefighters were leaving, the defendant told them that the baby had fallen out of her crib.

The defendant accompanied the baby as she was transported by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Meriden. Later, after the doctors diagnosed that the baby had a parietal skull fracture, she was transported by helicopter to Yale-New Haven Hospital and placed on a life support system. The next morning, the baby was pronounced brain dead and thereafter removed from life support. William Hellenbrand, the examining physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital, found bruises over the baby's back and her face swollen. He also testified that the skull fracture that killed the baby was caused by her being thrown physically, rather than just falling or being dropped.

The autopsy conducted by Harold Carver, deputy chief medical examiner, revealed bruised and swollen tissue around the lips and eyes, a fractured skull and five fractured ribs. Carver testified that the lethal injury to the skull was caused by a single blow of "fairly great force." The doctor opined that the injuries could have occurred when someone threw the baby onto a hard, smooth surface. He also testified that the baby's ribs were broken by a "fairly significant force" which [214 Conn. 81] occurred around the same time as the skull fracture. In Carver's opinion, the ribs could have been broken either by being struck with a fist or by being shaken violently. Carver, in the course of his examination, also discovered another head injury, not related to the cause of death, that was at least six weeks old.

What transpired during the short period of time in which the defendant was left alone with the baby is unclear. The only evidence presented by the state was the varying accounts of the incident given by the defendant to the police. The defendant first told authorities that the baby had fallen from her crib and that, in taking her to the bathroom to revive her, he had accidentally hit her head against a door. Later, the defendant voluntarily went to the police station to discuss the incident. While there, he repudiated the story of striking the baby's head against a door and stated instead that he had slipped and had fallen on the baby while carrying her to the bathroom and that he had also banged her head several times while attempting to place her into the bathtub to administer first aid. After being confronted with the results of the autopsy report, the defendant ventured that he might have dropped the baby as he was attempting to place her in the tub and that he had also banged her head several times in an attempt to resuscitate her. Carver rejected these explanations given by the defendant. He testified that he could not conceive of how the injuries could have been caused accidentally in those ways. [2] The defendant did at one point in his conversations with the police, however, admit that he had thrown the baby into the bathtub out of sheer frustration. When questioned as to what may have caused the rib injuries, the defendant indicated that he might have grabbed the victim too firmly in an attempt to revive her.

[214 Conn. 82] The defendant argues that the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had the ...

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