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State v. Beverley

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 13, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MAURICE BEVERLEY

          Argued September 23, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Vitale, J.

          Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Lauren Weisfeld, chief of legal services, for the appellant (defendant).

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

          Lavine, Sheldon and Mullins, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         The defendant, Maurice Beverley, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c; one count of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (2); and one count of criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217 (a). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion in (1) failing to conduct an adequate investigation into alleged juror bias, and (2) limiting the defendant's cross-examination of the state's key witness. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On March 31, 2010, the defendant told Eric Brooks, a codefendant, that he wanted to rob ‘‘somebody with money.'' On the night of April 2, 2010, the defendant and Eric Brooks met with Mary Pearson, their cousin, on the front porch of her aunt's home. Pearson was staying with her aunt, Mary Brooks, on the third floor of a three-story house, but another family lived on the first floor. The porch, which was in front of the first floor, was a small ‘‘community porch'' where people from around the neighborhood gathered. On that night, there were ‘‘other''[1] people on the porch with the defendant, Eric Brooks, and Pearson. When Pearson went to meet the defendant, he was already on the porch and had the victim, Kenneth Bagley, who was a known drug dealer, on his cell phone. In front of the ‘‘other'' people, the defendant asked Pearson if she would talk to Bagley to buy drugs for him. An hour later, Bagley arrived in his car and parked a couple of houses down from her aunt's house, in full view of the people on the porch. As Pearson and Bagley began to engage in a drug transaction in Bagley's car, the defendant opened the front driver's door, grabbed Bagley by the neck, and put a gun to his head. As a struggle ensued, the defendant shot Bagley in the upper body, which later caused his death. After the defendant shot Bagley, the defendant and Eric Brooks took Bagley's drugs and jewelry.

         The defendant was charged with felony murder, robbery in the first degree, and criminal possession of a firearm. At trial, Pearson testified that she was unfamiliar with the family that lived on the first floor and with the ‘‘other'' people on the front porch the night of the murder. During an extensive cross-examination about the tenants who lived on the first floor and about the ‘‘other'' people, defense counsel asked whether Pearson knew of ‘‘any disputes between the people on the first floor and [her] aunt.'' The state objected to the question on the ground of relevancy. After arguments before the court, the court sustained the objection ‘‘based on numerous claims.''

         On November 20, 2013, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. The defendant was sentenced to a total effective sentence of seventy-five years imprisonment. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as needed.

         I

         First, the defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to conduct an adequate investigation into alleged juror bias, which violated his right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution. The defendant asserts that his claim is preserved, but if this court determines that it is not preserved, it is nevertheless reviewable either pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), or under the plain error doctrine. The state argues that the defendant's claim is not reviewable because he waived his right to raise the claim on appeal. We agree with the state.

         The following additional facts are relevant to this claim. The jury began its deliberations on November 18, 2013. On November 20, 2013, the trial court was notified that juror R.A.'s wife[2] received a phone call the night before and that when R.A. took the phone from her, the caller asked R.A. about the case. R.A. reported the call to the court, telling the court that the caller told him that ‘‘they'' understood that R.A. was a juror on this case and that they needed information regarding the case. R.A. told the caller that he was prohibited from talking about the case, and he hung up the phone.[3]R.A. also told the court that he asked some of the other jurors earlier that morning whether any of them had received phone calls about the case. The court asked R.A. whether the phone call would prevent him from being a fair and impartial juror, and R.A. responded that it would not affect him. The court then gave both the state and the defense the opportunity to question R.A., but defense counsel declined to ask R.A. any questions. Defense counsel did not ask the court to dismiss R.A. as a juror, and the court did not dismiss R.A.

         After questioning R.A., the trial court, sua sponte, proposed that it conduct an individualized voir dire of the remaining eleven jurors. Defense counsel did not object to the procedure or suggest that any other action be taken. During the voir dire, one juror stated that she had heard that some ‘‘people were nervous about [the call].'' All of the jurors, however, told the court that the phone call did not affect their ability to be fair and impartial. At the end of each voir dire, the trial court gave both the state and the defense the opportunity to question the juror. Defense counsel declined to question any of the jurors.

         After the court interviewed the last juror, it gave the state and the defense the opportunity to be heard on the record.[4] Defense counsel stated that he was ‘‘concerned'' that some of the jurors were nervous, but he acknowledged that he was ‘‘not concerned'' about any jury bias. Defense counsel then stated, ‘‘I don't know if there's any way that a very quick investigation could be done and that's just the only thought I had.'' When asked by the trial court, however, who should conduct the investigation, defense counsel admitted that he did not know. Defense counsel then stated that the jury should proceed with its deliberations.

         The court concluded that it was satisfied with the jurors' answers that each of them could be fair and impartial and that there was no indication that anything that had happened had ‘‘endanger[ed] the fairness of the proceedings . . . .'' The court also stated that it had ‘‘inquired appropriately under the law'' and that it did not think that ‘‘there's any further action required of the [c]ourt ...


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