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State v. Leconte

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 23, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ALAIN LECONTE

         Argued November 9, 2015

Page 1133

          Amended information charging the defendant, in three cases, with four counts of the crime of robbery in the first degree and one count each of the crimes of murder, felony murder and attempt to commit murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, where the court, White, J., granted the state's motion for joinder and denied the defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence; thereafter, the cases were tried to the jury before White, J.; verdicts and judgments of guilty of two counts each of robbery in the first degree and robbery in the second degree, and one count each of murder, felony murder and attempt to commit murder, from which the defendant appealed to this court.

          Affirmed.

          SYLLABUS

         Convicted of the crimes of robbery in the first degree, robbery in the second degree, murder, felony murder and attempt to commit murder in connection with three separate armed robberies in Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford, the defendant appealed to this court. In the Norwalk robbery, the defendant shot and killed a clerk at a gas station, in the Greenwich robbery, the defendant shot another gas station clerk, who ultimately survived, and, although the defendant was armed during the Stamford robbery, no one was shot. The three sets of charges stemming from each incident were joined and tried in a single proceeding before a jury. On appeal, the defendant claimed, inter alia, that he had been deprived of his sixth amendment right to counsel when the trial court admitted incriminating statements regarding his involvement in the Greenwich and Norwalk robberies that he had made to a cellmate while he was incarcerated for charges relating to the Stamford robbery. Although the defendant acknowledged that the statements about his involvement in the Greenwich and Norwalk robberies concerned offenses for which he had not yet been represented by counsel at the time he made those statements and, therefore, that those statements were admissible with respect to the Greenwich and Norwalk charges, he claimed that, because all three cases were tried together, the incriminating statements could have led the jury to infer that, if the defendant was involved in the Greenwich and Norwalk robberies, it was likely that he was involved in the Stamford robbery and, therefore, that his conviction on the charges relating to the Stamford robbery should be reversed.

         Held :

         1. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that he was entitled to reversal of his conviction on the charges stemming from the Stamford robbery because, even if this court presumed that the trial court had committed error in admitting the defendant's incriminating statements, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; there was overwhelming and compelling evidence of the defendant's guilt with respect to the Stamford robbery, including his own voluntary statement to the police confessing his role in that robbery, the testimony of a fellow inmate that the defendant told him that he had committed that robbery, and testimony from multiple eyewitnesses corroborating the defendant's account of his involvement in that robbery.

         2. There was no merit to the defendant's claim that the trial court violated his sixth amendment right to confrontation or otherwise abused its discretion by restricting defense counsel's cross-examination of N, one of the defendant's coconspirators in the Greenwich robbery, who testified regarding the defendant's participation in the Greenwich and Norwalk robberies: defense counsel was not deprived of a meaningful opportunity to effectively cross-examine N because N testified extensively, during direct examination, cross-examination, and redirect examination, regarding the circumstances leading up to and surrounding a cooperation agreement that he had entered into with the state, including his obligation to tell the truth under that agreement and the fact that he repeatedly had lied to the authorities regarding his involvement in the Greenwich robbery before finally admitting to it and agreeing to cooperate by testifying against the defendant; moreover, even though the trial court precluded defense counsel from asking N certain questions on cross-examination, counsel had ample opportunity throughout cross-examination to challenge N's credibility, and the answers to those questions either would have led to cumulative evidence or would have been irrelevant to the issue of N's credibility.

         Daniel J. Foster, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

         Timothy F. Costello, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Richard J. Colangelo, Jr., state's attorney, James Bernardi, supervisory assistant state's attorney, and David I. Cohen, former state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

         Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

Page 1134

          [320 Conn. 502] ZARELLA, J.

          The defendant, Alain Leconte, appeals from the judgments of the trial court convicting him of crimes committed during a string of armed robberies in the cities of Stamford and Norwalk, and the town of Greenwich, between October and December, 2009.[1] The defendant claims that his

Page 1135

convictions resulting from the Stamford robbery should be reversed on the ground that his constitutional right to counsel was violated when the trial court admitted incriminating statements he made to an informant regarding the Norwalk and Greenwich robberies while he was incarcerated and represented by counsel. The defendant also claims that his convictions resulting from the Norwalk and Greenwich robberies should be reversed on the ground that the trial court violated his sixth amendment right to confrontation or, in the alternative, abused its discretion by restricting defense counsel's cross-examination of a key prosecution witness. The state responds that the trial court's admission of the incriminating statements and its restrictions on counsel's cross-examination of the witness did not violate the defendant's sixth amendment rights or constitute an abuse of the trial court's discretion and that, even if they did, any error was harmless. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. Between October and December, 2009, the defendant participated in three armed robberies, each of which resulted in criminal charges against him.

          [320 Conn. 503] The first robbery took place on October 10, 2009. The defendant, together with an accomplice, entered a Shell gas station and convenience store in Norwalk and demanded that the store clerk hand over the money in the cash register, which contained approximately $1300. He then shot the clerk in the head before fleeing with his accomplice. The clerk later died from the gunshot wound.

         The second robbery took place on November 21, 2009. The defendant and three accomplices drove to a Mobil gas station in Greenwich. While two of the accomplices waited in the car and the third, Teran Nelson, stood outside as a lookout, the defendant entered the convenience store and ordered the clerk at gunpoint to give him the money in the cash registers. After the clerk handed over approximately $638 and several boxes of cigarettes, the defendant shot him in the head and drove off with Nelson. The clerk ultimately recovered from the gunshot wound.

         The third robbery occurred on December 12, 2009. The defendant called and asked a friend, who also was a police informant, to give him a ride in her car. During the ride, the defendant told her to stop at a certain location, where he picked up a gun, smoked marijuana, and met an accomplice, David Hackney, with whom he decided to commit a robbery. The informant then drove the defendant and Hackney to a Walgreens store in Greenwich. While the two men waited in the car, the informant purchased a pair of stockings that the defendant said he wanted for his mother and contacted the police by cell phone to warn of a possible robbery in Stamford. When the informant returned to the car, she drove the defendant and Hackney back to Stamford and dropped them off on Vista Street. The men then walked a short distance to Adams Grocery Store. After the defendant and Hackney pulled the stockings over their heads, they entered the store and the defendant [320 Conn. 504] ordered everyone at gunpoint to get down on the floor. When the defendant encountered difficulty trying to open the cash register, the store clerk offered to help. The defendant then grabbed approximately $203 in cash and fled from the store with Hackney. A short time later, the police caught the defendant as he was running down the street.

Page 1136

          The defendant was detained and arrested, and various individuals who had been in Adams Grocery Store during the robbery identified the defendant and Hackney as the men who had just robbed the store. Police officers who had observed the men in immediate flight also identified the defendant, who was wearing the same clothing he had worn during the robbery. The defendant then was brought to the police station, where he provided a written statement in which he confessed to his involvement in the Stamford robbery and provided details ...


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