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State v. Mark

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 17, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MICHAEL MARK

          Argued October 27, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, Cremins, J.

          Michele C. Lukban, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Cynthia S. Serafini and Terence D. Mariani, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellant (state).

          Alice Osedach, assistant public defender, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Beach and Keller, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          LAVINE J.

         The state appeals from the judgment of the trial court[1] setting aside the jury's verdict finding the defendant, Michael Mark, guilty of one count of tampering with evidence in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 53a-155 (a).[2] The state claims that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilty. We agree with the state and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         A jury reasonably could have found the following facts. In the early morning of November 2, 2010, the victim, Arnaldo Gonzalez was walking to a polling station in the city of Waterbury, where he was scheduled to work as a Spanish interpreter. At approximately the same time and in the same vicinity, the defendant and his three friends, Manuel Vazquez (Tetan), Johnny Martinez, and Anthony Garcia, were driving to an ‘‘after hours'' house where they could purchase alcohol after the liquor stores had closed. As they drove, the defendant and his friends saw the victim walking along the side of the road. The defendant stated to his friends that he was ‘‘about to rob that nigga.'' When the men arrived at their destination, the defendant and Martinez got out of the car and walked to where they had seen the victim.

         When the defendant and Martinez returned, the defendant was carrying the victim's backpack. The defendant stated that he thought that he had killed the victim because he kept hitting him with a rock. The four men then drove to the home of Joan Ruiz, Tetan's sister. At the house, Garcia and Martinez went through the victim's backpack, finding needles, juice, a toy, and a Thermos. The defendant told Tetan that they had to return to the scene of the robbery to retrieve the rock that he had used to hit the victim because he did not want to leave any evidence of the murder weapon at the scene.

         When the defendant and Tetan drove back to the scene, they picked up three of their friends, Vanessa Vazquez, Vanessa Olivencia, and Sonja Hernandez, who wanted to buy liquor from the ‘‘after hours'' house. During the drive, the defendant and Tetan discussed how they needed to ‘‘go back to a spot'' to ‘‘get something.'' When the defendant, Tetan, Vanessa Vazquez, and Hernandez arrived at the murder scene, [3] the defendant exited the car and told them that he ‘‘had to find the brick.'' No one in the car actually observed the defendant pick up the rock, but Vanessa Vazquez saw him bend down and then stand back up.

         After the defendant exited the car, Tetan, Vanessa Vazquez, and Hernandez drove to the ‘‘after hours'' house to purchase alcohol. There, they met Eliut Canales, Tetan's younger brother. Canales was ‘‘acting crazy'' because he knew what had happened, and he left with Vanessa Vazquez and Hernandez, leaving Tetan in the car. A couple of minutes after Canales, Vanessa Vazquez, and Hernandez left, Tetan observed the defendant through his rear-view mirror coming toward his car. When the defendant returned to the car, the defendant told Tetan that he had ‘‘got[ten] rid of the rock.''

         The victim's body was found on the sidewalk later that morning. When paramedics arrived at the scene, the victim was lying on the ground and bleeding from his head. Despite the fact that the victim suffered head trauma, the police were unable to locate the murder weapon at the scene.

         The morning of the murder and throughout the next couple of days, the defendant admitted to a number of people-including Garcia, Tetan, Olivencia, Ruiz, and Canales-that he had murdered or thought that he had murdered the victim when he hit him with a rock. In addition, the defendant told Ruiz that he was afraid that ‘‘too many people knew about'' the murder and was afraid ‘‘that somebody was going to talk.''

         The defendant was charged with murder, felony murder, two counts of robbery in the first degree, and one count each of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and tampering with evidence. After the defendant's case-in-chief, but before the jury returned its verdict, the defendant made a motion for judgment of acquittal as to all counts. The court denied the motion with regard to counts one through five but reserved its decision as to the sixth count, which alleged tampering with evidence. On May 5, 2014, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. On August 29, 2014, during sentencing, the court granted the defendant's ...


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