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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 17, 2016

MELVIN JONES
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT, STATE’S ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

Argued February 8, 2016

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Sferrazza, J.

Allison M. Near, with whom were Richard A. Reeve and, on the brief, Michael O. Sheehan, for the appellant (petitioner).

Timothy J. Sugrue, 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 (respondent).

DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Sheldon, Js.

OPINION

SHELDON, J.

The petitioner, Melvin Jones, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his petition for a new trial on charges of capital felony in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 53a-54b (3)[1] and carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 29-35, [2] of which he was found guilty by a jury in connection with the shooting death of the victim, Wayne Curtis, as he sat in his vehicle on Howard Avenue in New Haven on October 17, 1990. A jury in the New Haven Superior Court found the petitioner guilty on those charges at his retrial following our Supreme Court’s reversal of his initial conviction in 1993. We subsequently affirmed the petitioner’s conviction at the retrial in 1996.

In support of its claims against the petitioner at his retrial, the state presented testimony from several eyewitnesses who placed the petitioner, or a man looking like him, at or near the scene of the shooting at or about the time the victim was shot and killed. Some of the eyewitnesses claimed that they saw the petitioner arguing and/or fighting with the victim as the victim sat inside his parked vehicle just before he was shot. All of the eyewitnesses testified that when they saw the petitioner or the man looking like him on that occasion, he was wearing a camouflage jacket.

One eyewitness in particular, a drug addict and police informant named Frankie Harris, not only identified the petitioner as the man in the camouflage jacket she saw running away from the scene of the shooting just after she heard the sound of gunshots, but also testified that as the man fled, she saw him take off the camouflage jacket and throw it into a nearby dumpster. Harris further testified that after the man left the area, she retrieved the jacket from the dumpster and turned it over to the police, through whom it was introduced in evidence at trial. Although the jacket was connected to the victim by the unexplained presence, in one of its pockets, of a repair bill for work done on the victim’s vehicle more than two years before the shooting, the state presented no forensic evidence to link the petitioner to the jacket, the victim, or the victim’s vehicle.

In his new trial petition, the petitioner claimed that he was entitled to a new trial on the basis of newly discovered DNA evidence that allegedly established the reasonable probability that he would be acquitted of all charges in connection with the victim’s death if he were granted a new trial. The new evidence he relied on in support of his petition was of two types. First, in 2010 and 2012, nuclear DNA testing using the STR (Short Tandem Repeat) method was performed on two samples of biological material collected from inside the collar and the sleeves of the camouflage jacket, which the petitioner allegedly threw into the dumpster as he fled from the scene of the shooting. Such testing, he claimed, revealed the presence of nuclear DNA from at least two different individuals, neither of whom was the petitioner. Also in 2012, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing was performed on several hairs that police investigators had found inside the victim’s vehicle during their initial investigation following the shooting. Only three of those hairs were found to be suitable for comparison. One such hair was a Caucasian type hair that was found to contain mtDNA consistent with that of the victim, a white male. The other two hairs that were suitable for comparison were Negroid type hairs that were found to contain mtDNA inconsistent with that of the petitioner, a black male. The latter results, claimed the petitioner, conclusively established that he was not the source of any testable Negroid type hairs found inside the victim’s vehicle.

At a court trial on the petition, the respondent, the State of Connecticut, State’s Attorney’s Office, conceded that both types of DNA evidence proffered by the petitioner were newly discovered, but disagreed that the introduction of such evidence at a new trial would likely lead to the petitioner’s acquittal. The trial court, after hearing testimony from several witnesses and considering extensive briefs and oral argument, agreed with the respondent and denied the petition. This appeal followed. For the following reasons, we agree with the trial court, and thus affirm its judgment denying the petition.

To put the petitioner’s claim in his new trial petition in its proper context, we must begin by setting forth the factual and procedural history of the prosecution that led to the petitioner’s challenged conviction. We described that history as follows in our decision affirming that conviction on direct appeal. ‘‘The [petitioner] appealed to this court from a judgment of conviction from his second trial. In the first proceeding, the case was tried to the jury before Hadden, J., and the [petitioner] was convicted of capital felony in violation of § 53a-54b (3) and carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of § 29-35. The [petitioner] appealed to our Supreme Court. While that appeal was pending, the [petitioner] filed a petition for a new trial, which the trial court, Booth, J., granted.[3] The Supreme Court then considered the [petitioner’s] appeal, and reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.[4] See State v. Jones, 234 Conn. 324, 662 A.2d 1199 (1995). The [petitioner] was tried to a jury for a second time before Fracasse, J., and convicted of capital felony and carrying a pistol without a permit. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. . . .

‘‘The jury [at the second trial] reasonably could have found the following facts. On the morning of October 17, 1990, Bonaventure Console, who resided at 365 Howard Avenue, New Haven, saw the [petitioner] walking toward an automobile parked across the street from his home. A white male, later identified as the victim, Wayne Curtis, was seated in the front of the vehicle. Console had frequently seen the [petitioner] in that neighborhood and later that same day . . . described him to the police as a black male with braided hair who always wore camouflage clothing.

‘‘Shortly thereafter, Nilda Mercado, an eleven year old girl, passed the victim’s vehicle on her way to school. Mercado witnessed a black male banging the head[5] of a white male, who was seated in the vehicle, against the car door. As she walked past the car, Mercado heard two gunshots fired. Immediately after the incident, Mercado informed her aunt that the black man had four[6]braids in his hair and wore camouflage clothing. Although Mercado could not make a positive in-court identification, she testified that the [petitioner] had similar braids and the same features as the perpetrator.

‘‘Angel Delgado, a seventeen year old boy who lived on Howard Avenue, was looking out a second story window of his homeat approximately 7:15 a.m. on October 17, 1990, when he witnessed the [petitioner] and the victim across the street. The victim was seated in a vehicle and the two men were arguing. Although Delgado saw only the side of the [petitioner’s] face, and his view may have been somewhat obscured by a tree, he recognized the [petitioner] as someone he frequently had seen around that neighborhood during the weeks preceding the homicide. Delgado looked away for a moment and then heard gunshots. When he looked back, the [petitioner] was gone and the victim was lying in the driver’s seat. Delgado saw a young girl, later identified as Mercado, running down Howard Avenue. He also described the [petitioner] as having four[7] braids and wearing camouflage clothing.

‘‘Harris, who also knew the [petitioner] from that neighborhood, heard the shots and moments later saw the [petitioner] run toward her, remove a camouflage jacket and throw it in a nearby dumpster. She retrieved the jacket, which contained a work order from a service station for a wheel alignment performed on the victim’s car. Harris admitted that she was a drug addict and a police informant. Harris testified, however, that at the time of the murder, she had not ingested any drugs and, at the time she spoke to the police, she was informed that she would not be paid for her information in connection with this case.

‘‘Larry Hodge, also a narcotics user and police informant, first met the victim at a gas station on Route 80 in New Haven at 3 a.m. on October 17, 1990. Hodge paid the victim for a ride to Anastasio’s truck stop in New Haven. After Hodge exited the vehicle and began to walk away, he saw a black male with braided hair approach the victim and get into the vehicle. After learn- ing of the victim’s death, Hodge, out of concern that his fingerprints in the automobile would be identified in the homicide investigation, contacted the police. In his interview with the police, Hodge gave a sworn statement identifying the [petitioner] from a photographic array as the man he had seen get into the victim’s car. Hodge later retracted that identification before the jury. There was evidence that Hodge retracted the identification because he feared retaliation by people who had pressured him not to testify in the trial.

‘‘Officer Brendan Cannon of the New Haven police department arrested the [petitioner] on October 19, 1990. At the time of his arrest, the [petitioner] had four braids and was wearing a size extra small camouflage jacket. . . . The ...


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