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State v. Best

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 4, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
DURANTE BEST

          Argued April 5, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Rodriguez, J.

          Neal Cone, senior assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Lauren Weisfeld, public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Susann E. Gill, supervisory assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Margaret E. Kelley, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Lavine, Mullins and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         On the second day of evidence in his criminal trial, the defendant, Durante Best, filed a written request for a jury instruction of self-defense.[1] The trial court denied his request. Following the trial, he was convicted of one count of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), two counts of attempt to commit murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 and 53a-54a (a), two counts of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1), and criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217 (a). On appeal, he claims that the court improperly failed to instruct the jury on self-defense, and, therefore, that he was deprived of his constitutional right to establish a defense. We agree that he was entitled to an instruction of self-defense with respect to some, but not all, of the crimes of which he was convicted. Accordingly, we reverse in part and affirm in part the judgment of the trial court.[2]

         ‘‘In determining whether the defendant is entitled to an instruction of self-defense . . . we must view the evidence most favorably to giving such an instruction.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Terwilliger, 294 Conn. 399, 408-409, 984 A.2d 721 (2009). Viewed in this light, the record reveals the following relevant facts, which the jury reasonably could have found. In May, 2006, the defendant was living in an apartment at 275 Jefferson Street in Bridgeport. He shared this apartment with his then girlfriend, Erika Anderson (Erika), and his stepbrother, Joseph Myers.On the afternoon of May 4, 2006, Erika had planned to attend a carnival at nearby Newfield Park with her daughter, Octavia Anderson (Octavia); Octavia's friend, Rogerlyna Jones; and Octavia's young son, Taki. Before Octavia arrived at the apartment, Erika and the defendant began to argue.

         When Octavia and Jones arrived at 275 Jefferson Street, Octavia asked Jones to go to the door of the apartment to get Erika because she was preoccupied watching Taki, who was asleep. Jones knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Jones then returned to the car and informed Octavia that nobody answered, which surprised Octavia because she had spoken with Erika recently. Subsequently, Nelson Stroud, who was living in the basement area of 275 Jefferson Street at the time, informed Jones that the defendant and Erika were arguing in their apartment. Octavia asked Myers, who was sitting outside of the apartment, to watch Taki while she and Jones went to retrieve Erika. Without receiving permission from any of the occupants, Octavia and Jones entered the apartment.

         Once they had entered the apartment, Octavia and Jones could hear the defendant and Erika arguing in their bedroom. Concerned for her mother, Octavia began banging on the door and ‘‘told them to open up the f-ing door.'' Octavia banged on the bedroom door with a large plastic wrap holder several times and screamed at the defendant to open the door, but he did not comply. Instead, the defendant instructed her to ‘‘get the f-away from my door.'' Octavia continued to pound on the door and warned the defendant that ‘‘if you don't open the door [I'm] going to f-you up.'' Jones, who was also pounding on the door, ordered the defendant to open the door and also stated that she and Octavia had backup. Octavia admitted at trial that she and Jones uttered these warnings to the defendant clearly.

         Having failed to convince the defendant to open the door, Octavia turned away from the bedroom door and searched for something to hit it with. At that moment, the door was opened, and the defendant opened fire. Jones was shot first. Just after Jones was shot, Octavia felt a burning in her chest and realized that she had been shot as well. Octavia and Jones ran back to Octavia's car, and Octavia drove them to nearby Bridgeport Hospital. Jones lost a substantial amount of blood during the car ride.

         As Octavia and Jones were heading toward Octavia's car, Erika ran toward them. The defendant shot Erika, who eventually collapsed outside of the apartment. The defendant tried to take her to a hospital on his bike, but was unable to do so and fled. Emergency response personnel subsequently arrived and found Erika bleeding profusely. She was taken to Bridgeport Hospital where she was treated for several weeks. Jones died of her injuries. Erika and Octavia both survived, but sustained substantial injuries.

         In an amended information dated June 6, 2007, the state charged the defendant with one count of murder as to Jones (count one); one count of attempted murder as to Erika and one count of attempted murder as to Octavia (counts two and three); one count of assault in the first degree as to Erika and one count of assault in the first degree as to Octavia (counts four and five); and criminal possession of a firearm (count six).

         Evidence in the defendant's criminal trial began on September 5, 2007. On that day, the court stated on the record that it had received the state's written request to charge. The court also stated that it had granted the defendant a one day extension to submit his request. The following day, the defendant submitted his written request to charge, which contained a proposed charge of self-defense. The defendant stated that the evidentiary basis for this request was ‘‘[t]estimony from the alleged victims, [Erika and Octavia].'' At the time this written request was ...


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