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State v. Brantley

Appellate Court of Connecticut

April 12, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
AARON BRANTLEY

         Argued November 18, 2015

          Substitute information charging the defendant with two counts of the crime of bribery of a witness, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven and tried to the court, B. Fischer, J.; judgment of guilty of one count of bribery of a witness; thereafter, the court denied the defendant's motion for a new trial, and the defendant appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         Convicted, following a trial to the court, of one count of the crime of bribery of a witness, the defendant appealed to this court. The defendant, who had worked as a firefighter for the city of New Haven, allegedly made statements to L, a deputy fire marshal, offering him 2 to 3 percent of any proceeds the defendant received in connection with a pending action the defendant had brought against the city and the New Haven Fire Department for alleged discrimination. In exchange, the defendant allegedly wanted L, who had witnessed an incident involving the defendant and E, the assistant fire chief, to testify on his behalf in that action regarding alleged harassment of the defendant by E. The trial court found that L was a witness in an official proceeding, that the defendant had offered L a benefit, and that the defendant intended to influence L's testimony.

         Held :

         1. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that the sufficiency of the evidence standard applied by reviewing courts in this state did not adequately guard a defendant's due process right not to be convicted except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that this court should reformulate the standard to protect more adequately the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt; this court could not overrule, reevaluate, or reexamine controlling precedent of our Supreme Court, which has articulated the well established standard for a sufficiency of the evidence challenge, and our existing standard is virtually identical to the sufficiency standard formulated by the United States Supreme Court and requires not just some evidence of guilt, but evidence sufficient to prove each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

         2. The trial court properly concluded that there was sufficient evidence of the defendant's intent to influence L's testimony, as the defendant requested that L alter his testimony concerning alleged harassment by E and offered to pay L to do so, and there was ample evidence before that court, in the form of a statement by L to a police detective, from which the court reasonably could have inferred the defendant's intent to influence L's testimony; furthermore, L asserted in his statement that he told the defendant that he did not feel that E had harassed the defendant but that the defendant nonetheless wanted him to say that E had done so, a reasonable fact finder could have inferred from L's statement that the defendant sought to induce L to testify more favorably than he otherwise would have testified, and the court, having found L's statement credible, reasonably could have found that it established the element of intent to influence testimony beyond a reasonable doubt.

         3. Contrary to the defendant's claim, the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he offered L a benefit; although the defendant claimed that there was testimony from another witness, H, showing that the defendant was not present at the main firehouse with L on the date when the alleged offer to L took place, the state was not required to prove that the defendant offered L a benefit on a particular date because time was not an element of the charged offense, and notwithstanding H's testimony regarding the defendant's whereabouts during the week that the alleged offer was made, there was sufficient evidence in the record from which the court reasonably could have concluded that the defendant made L an offer.

         Daniel P. Scholfield, with whom was Hugh F. Keefe, for the appellant (defendant).

         Nancy L. Walker, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and Stacey Miranda, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

         Keller, Mullins and Lavery, Js. MULLINS, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

          [164 Conn.App. 461] After a trial to the court, the defendant, Aaron Brantley, was convicted of one count of bribery of a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-149. The defendant now appeals, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         At the conclusion of the defendant's trial, the court, B. Fischer, J., made the following findings of fact: " [The defendant] is thirty-four years old, he's been a firefighter for approximately ten years. He was injured at work in 2011. He injured his shoulder. He was put on restrictions of light duty for a period of time, off and on . . . . He did have surgery as I recall in December of . . . 2011 . . . . He did file a workers' compensation case in conjunction with his work related injury and he alleged in the summer of [2012], which is in evidence, that . . . [Assistant Chief Patrick] Egan interfered inappropriately in his comp[ensation] case by going to the doctor's office . . . . [A]nd this court does make a finding that . . . within [the claim] that his . . . attorney . . . then filed [with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO)][1] . . . [the] request for relief concerning the actions of . . . Egan, the inappropriate actions, discriminating against an employee with a workers' comp[ensation] case . . . [sought an award of] damages or potential awarding of damages to the defendant. The defendant in June of 2012 alleged in a twelve page affidavit, which was part of his CHRO complaint, and the complaint consists of forty-three separate paragraphs in his affidavit which goes into great detail about his allegations of racial discrimination and other discrimination imposed upon him by . . . [164 Conn.App. 462] Egan and others at the . . . New Haven Fire Department and the city of New Haven . . . ." [2]

         The court also made the following findings of fact: " [Corey] Bellamy has been a New Haven firefighter for . . . nine or ten years. He is friends with [the defendant]. They had a good relationship. There were some phone calls . . . between the two in June [2012], I don't know the extent of those phone calls but there were phone calls there. The defendant at a point in time did tell Mr. Bellamy about a pending lawsuit he has or was preparing with the assistance of his attorney against the city of New Haven, and specifically . . . Egan and some others in the city of New Haven and the fire department. On August 24, 2012, Mr. Bellamy did go to the New Haven Police Department and gave a statement concerning this matter to Detective [Lynn] Meekins of the New Haven Police Department. . . .

         " The statement that he gave was close in time to the events of June and July [of] 2012. The statement was given in a reliable setting, it was given in the New Haven Police Department and it was given to a police officer. And . . . Bellamy should know, or would have known that giving a false statement to a police officer is a crime and he could have been arrested for a felony if it was proven that he gave a false statement to police.

         " Now, what Mr. Bellamy did when he came in front of this judge to testify in this trial is he got on the [164 Conn.App. 463] stand and he raised his right hand and he told me that everything he told the police back [o]n August 24, 2012, was a lie. . . . [A]s far as [a] bribe or alleged bribe he indicated to this court that everything he said was a lie. . . .

         " I don't find that credible. I do find credible what he gave in his statement to the police department [o]n August 24, 2012. And what that statement indicates and I find . . . is that he was present when Assistant Chief Egan asked the defendant to put gas in his truck or car, that the defendant didn't like this order from Egan, and eventually what happened shortly after that, again . . . we're not good on the dates, but shortly after that the defendant offers to . . . Bellamy 2 or 3 percent of [any] potential proceeds of a lawsuit to tell courts or attorneys the situation that happened with Assistant Chief Egan, and this was done on the phone. Several days after that firefighter Bellamy then goes to his supervisor . . . [Faustino] Lopez, and he indicates to . . . Lopez that the defendant . . . offered him 2 to 3 percent that he would give to Bellamy [because] he was supposed to get a chunk of money if this lawsuit works out.

         " So [Bellamy] was consistent with his comments to Lopez, the phone call that he received from the defendant, and he was consistent when he told the police, in this court's opinion, his statement on August 24, 2012. . . .

         " Lopez . . . is friends with the defendant . . . . There were numerous calls in June [2012] initiated by the defendant to him in a two week period of time. . . . [B]ellamy reported to . . . Lopez that the defendant did give--offered to give him 2 or 3 percent of proceeds of a claim against Egan and the city of New Haven.

          [164 Conn.App. 464] " [Lopez] was a witness to an incident where . . . Egan had asked the defendant . . . and . . . Lopez at some time at work where they were going, so Lopez was there present for that episode. [The defendant] did take some offense to that inquiry by [Egan] concerning the question about where they were going. The defendant then offers Lopez the same 2 to 3 percent payout of the proceeds or payout of a claim, claimed lawsuit, or proceeds from litigation. . . . Lopez declines this offer.[3] Subsequent to that the defendant then calls up Lopez on the phone and he asks him to reconsider the 2 to 3 percent payout. Again, Lopez declines that. In late June . . . Lopez [has] a brief meeting with . . . Egan.

         " And I'm going to read from [the state's] Exhibit [2] concerning evidence that I am discussing, and I'm on page ten . . . which says as follows, and . . . this is Lopez' statement: 'Something coming up real soon, that was imminent, as far as a lawsuit, and maybe something was going to take place in the media and that [the defendant] wanted . . . me to testify in his behalf, even after I told him that I didn't have any evidentiary value for the testimony 'cause I didn't believe he was harassed at that time. And he, that's why he approached me with the monetary percent and said, " If you were to kind of alter your testimony I will pay you to do that." ' . . . And on page twelve of the. . . statement it goes as follows: 'He wanted to include me in that and he wanted me to testify. Once I told him I didn't believe it was that there--that there was a way that I wouldn't have anything to offer. That's when he said, well, what if I give you--what if I give you 2 or 3 percent, whatever you want of any monetary settlement I get from the case that I'm going to file, coming up pretty soon.' The detective then [asked] did he suggest to you [what] he wanted you to say, and this is Lopez' response: 'Yes, he said that he wanted me to say that he believed that [164 Conn.App. 465] he was being harassed by Chief Egan, [and] that I felt that it was a direct harassment, [and] that I [didn't] really get asked those questions by Chief Egan, where I was going and what I was doing. That's what he wanted me to basically say.'

         " So we have testimony from two of the defendant's friends, Lopez and Bellamy, that the defendant offered a benefit to them to testify on his behalf. There is no motive or bias that either of these witnesses have against the defendant . . . there's no reason that this court finds that they would fabricate the story. It's not like . . . Egan came in here and said that, where there's obviously, to say the least, hard feelings between [him and the defendant] . . . . But what we have in front of this court is two individuals with, in this court's opinion, no axe to grind, who were ...


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