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State v. Martinez

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 28, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JOHNNY MARTINEZ

          Argued October 18, 2016

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

          Steven B. Rasile, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Melissa L. Streeto, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Cynthia S. Serafiniand Terence Mariani, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Calmar, Js.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The defendant, Johnny Martinez, appeals from the judgment of conviction rendered by the trial court, following ajury trial, of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (1), robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (3), conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 (a) and 53a-134 (a), and tampering with evidence in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) § 53a-155 (a) (1).[1] The defendant claims that the court (1) violated his right to present a defense by prohibiting him from presenting evidence concerning an altercation that took place in the hours prior to the events at issue, (2) violated his right to cross-examination by limiting the scope of his cross-examination of a state's witness, (3) improperly instructed the jury with respect to accessorial liability in the course of its instructions concerning the murder count, (4) improperly failed to comply with the jury's request to have certain testimony played back, and (5) improperly denied his request to suppress a written statement that he provided to the police. We dismiss the appeal with respect to the third claim, and with respect to the remainder of the appeal, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         On the basis of the evidence presented at trial, [2] the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. Shortly after 4 a.m., on November 2, 2010, the victim, Arnaldo Gonzalez, left his residence on Savings Street in Waterbury and began walking to an election polling station on Washington Street, where he was scheduled to report at 5 a.m. to work as a bilingual interpreter. When the victim left his residence, he was carrying a black backpack.

         The victim made his way to Baldwin Street when an automobile being driven by Manuel Vasquez, and in which the defendant, Michael Mark, [3] and Anthony Garcia were passengers, drove by him. The four men in the automobile were on their way to purchase liquor at a ‘‘bootleg house'' at which liquor was sold ‘‘after hours, '' when bars and package stores were not open for business. Mark observed the victim and commented aloud that he intended to rob him.[4]

         Vasquez parked the automobile along Baldwin Street, near the bootleg house. Before going to purchase liquor, Vasquez cautioned Mark not to do anything ‘‘stupid.'' The defendant and Mark then exited the automobile and proceeded on foot in the victim's direction. Garcia remained in the automobile.

         The defendant and Mark followed the victim intending to rob him. As they got closer to the victim, Mark picked up a hard object, perhaps a brick or a rock, from the ground. Mark ran toward the victim from behind while the defendant ran into the street to prevent the victim from fleeing from them. Mark struck the victim in the back of the head with the hard object. The victim did not have time to react, but immediately fell to the ground. Mark repeatedly struck the victim, who was lying face down on the ground. When the defendant, wearing white sneakers, came upon the victim, he stomped on the victim's head, causing blood to transfer onto one of his sneakers. Mark left the victim while in possession of the victim's backpack.

         When Vasquez returned to the automobile a short time later, Garcia informed him that he thought that the defendant and Mark had gone ‘‘up the street'' to ‘‘rob'' the victim. Vasquez drove a short distance before he observed the defendant and Mark running in a southerly direction, on opposite sides of the street, near the intersection of Baldwin and Galivan Streets. Vasquez stopped the automobile to permit both men to get inside of it. Mark remained in possession of the victim's backpack. Mark was ‘‘bugging out, '' looking at his hands, and he stated three times that he had killed the victim. The defendant stated that Mark had hit the victim ‘‘ ‘in the head over and over again.' '' Also, the defendant stated that he had kicked the victim. The victim, who sustained multiple skull fractures and brain hemorrhaging, died as a result of blunt force trauma to his head that was consistent with being hit with a hard object such as a rock and being kicked with a shod foot.

         Vasquez drove the men to the defendant's residence on Second Avenue. There, in the kitchen, Mark referred to the manner in which he had struck the victim in the head; he imitated the cracking sound that he had heard during his assault of the victim.[5] The defendant and Garcia rummaged through the items in the victim's backpack, which included several items that the victim, a diabetic, used to care for himself. The commotion caused the defendant's sister-in-law, Joan Ruiz, to come to the kitchen. Ruiz asked the defendant about the appearance of blood on one of his sneakers, to which the defendant replied that they had ‘‘jumped a crack-head'' who owed them money and that he had ‘‘kicked him in the head.'' Later, after Ruiz learned from the defendant that Mark had killed someone, Ruiz told everyone to leave and to remove the victim's backpack from her residence.

         After Ruiz observed the blood on the defendant's sneaker, he went to a bathroom and cleaned the blood off of the sneaker. The defendant concealed the backpack by tossing it on the roof of a neighbor's garage. In the hours following the murder, the defendant appeared to be crying and he stated that ‘‘he couldn't believe that he kicked the guy.''

         Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         First, the defendant claims that the court violated his right to present a defense by prohibiting him from presenting evidence concerning an altercation that took place in the hours prior to the events at issue. Although we agree that the court erroneously ruled as it did, we conclude that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

         The following procedural history provides necessary context for our analysis of the defendant's claim. At trial, the state presented evidence that, following the victim's murder, blood was present on one of the defendant's sneakers. The defense attempted to demonstrate that the blood was not the victim's blood, but that it was the blood of a third party with whom the defendant had been involved in a physical altercation in the hours prior to the victim's murder.

         During his direct examination by the state at trial, Garcia testified that, when he, the defendant, Vasquez, and Mark were at the residence on Second Avenue following the victim's murder, he observed blood on one of the defendant's sneakers. He recalled that, after Ruiz asked the defendant why there was blood on his sneaker, the defendant ‘‘went to clean it.'' During the defense's cross-examination of Garcia, he was asked about an event that occurred while he was with the defendant, Vasquez, and Mark, in the hours prior to the victim's murder. The state objected to this inquiry and, outside of the presence of the jury, the state argued that it appeared that the defense was attempting to elicit testimony concerning an event ‘‘where the four individuals . . . got into a fight or a scuffle with somebody, that there was a dispute over the purchase of either powdered or crack cocaine. That was where [defense counsel] was trying to get with this particular witness.''[6] The state argued that the inquiry was objectionable on the grounds that it was beyond the scope of the state's direct examination of Garcia and because the evidence was not relevant to the events that transpired on Baldwin Street and resulted in the victim's death.

         Defense counsel argued that the line of inquiry was proper. First, he argued that the evidence was within the scope of the state's direct examination because the state had elicited testimony from Garcia with respect to events that transpired when the four men (the defendant, Vasquez, Garcia, and Mark) ‘‘got together'' in the hours prior to the murder. Second, the defendant's attorney argued that the evidence he was trying to elicit would tend to demonstrate that, in the hours prior to the murder, the defendant had kicked a third party (a person he referred to as a ‘‘crackhead''). He argued that this evidence was ‘‘absolutely relevant'' and ‘‘material to the defense of the case'' because it tended to demonstrate that the blood on the defendant's sneaker was not caused by his conduct with respect to the victim in this case but that it resulted from the defendant's violent conduct in an unrelated incident. The defendant's attorney told the court that the evidence was relevant to demonstrate ‘‘[t]hat the [prior] incident occurred and whether or not [Garcia] knows if the blood [on the defendant's sneaker] came from that incident, as opposed to a later incident.''

         The court sustained the state's objection in part. The court ruled that the defense could inquire of Garcia as to whether he knew the source of the blood on the defendant's sneaker but that ‘‘[a]ny details as to any encounter concerning a crackhead, or however the person was referred to, those details are not essential to determining whether or not he knew the source of the blood on the shoe. Since what is relevant appears to be . . . that he saw the defendant washing blood off of his shoe, you may inquire as to whether he knew about the source of that blood on his shoe. . . . [T]he details concerning the prior encounter, that is not allowed. . . . [Y]ou can inquire as to whether or not he was present at a previous encounter and whether or not he knows of . . . that encounter being the source of the blood.'' The court went on to explain: ‘‘The details as to the encounter, as in there was somebody talking about going to take something from a crackhead and what they took and didn't take, what is relevant to this is . . . the source of the blood on the defendant's shoe. . . . You may inquire as to what he knows concerning the source of the blood, and that can be done without the details of the encounter.'' The court stated: ‘‘Here's the question[s] that you will be permitted to ask. Was there a prior altercation involving the four individuals in the car? How long did that happen before the encounter with [the victim]? And whether he saw any blood on the defendant's shoes from that altercation.''

         After the court's ruling, the following colloquy occurred between defense counsel and Garcia:

‘‘Q. [D]id an incident occur in the late evening hours of November1, or the early morning hours of November 2, 2010, where you, [Vasquez, Mark, and the defendant] had an altercation with a third party, not [the victim]?
‘‘A. Yes.
‘‘Q. Okay. Do you recall approximately how long from that incident until you went to the bootlegger store, approximately how long was that time frame?
‘‘A. It was a big time frame . . . probably like around four hours, three, four hours.
‘‘Q. As a result of that altercation do you know whether or not that was the source of the blood on [the defendant's] shoes that you saw at Second Avenue?
‘‘A. It could have been, but I don't know.'' During Garcia's continued cross-examination by defense counsel, the following colloquy occurred:
‘‘Q. [On Second Avenue] [s]omeone asked [the defendant] about where the blood came from, didn't they?
‘‘A. Yes.
‘‘Q. And [the defendant] gave an answer to that, didn't he?
‘‘A. Yes.
‘‘Q. [He] said he kicked a crackhead, isn't that true?
‘‘A. True.
‘‘Q. [The defendant] said he kicked a crackhead in the head, correct?
‘‘A. True.
‘‘Q. At the time that statement was made do you know whether or not [the victim] was a crackhead?
‘‘A. No.
‘‘Q. Do you have any reason to believe that he was a drug user that evening?
‘‘A. No.''

         Following Garcia's testimony and outside of the presence of the jury, defense counsel renewed his argument that the court should have permitted him greater leeway to develop a factual basis concerning the prior physical altercation involving the defendant and the third party. The court, observing that its ruling would apply to the defense's examination of other witnesses, responded by stating in relevant part: ‘‘The details as to that incident are irrelevant. I allowed what the court deemed to be relevant: that there was an earlier incident, that there was an altercation, that they were involved. You were allowed to address your claim concerning whether or not there was blood because there was a question concerning . . . the defendant washing blood off of his shoes.'' The court further explained: ‘‘The fact that there was something earlier, I've allowed. The time frame between that and the incident involving [the victim] is allowed. And any questioning concerning any blood from that incident versus any blood from the later incident is allowed. The details that had been put before the court on the record concerning who they saw, what they did to him, who did what, I'm not going to allow the details. Who owed what for drugs or who owed money. I have ruled that portion of that incident is not admissible.'' The court then stated: ‘‘One of the big problems is, the details concerning that [prior] incident are likely to be confusing and create other problems. But what I have ruled is relevant is that there was an incident, that they were involved. There seems to have been some altercation and you're permitted to question concerning whether or not there was blood from that incident to explain the blood that [the defendant] was seen washing off [his sneaker].''

         The court had occasion to revisit its evidentiary ruling during the testimony of Sonia Hernandez, who had observed the victim's lifeless body on Baldwin Street. See footnote 5 of this opinion. During her direct examination by the state, Hernandez testified that in the early morning of November 2, 2010, she was in a car with Vasquez and Mark. As the car traveled down Baldwin Street, Hernandez observed a male lying on the sidewalk, as well as blood. Hernandez stated that when she brought this to Mark's attention, he stated ‘‘ ‘[t]hat he was just a crackhead. He deserved that. He owed [me] money or something.' '' Hernandez testified that Mark then exited the automobile in the vicinity of the person lying on the sidewalk and stated that he had to hide a brick. Following this testimony, defense counsel argued that Hernandez' testimony, viewed in conjunction with Garcia's testimony, gave rise to an inference that the defendant had kicked the victim. Thus, defense counsel argued, the court should permit the defense to elicit additional details with respect to the prior incident to rebut this inference. Specifically, defense counsel argued that the state had presented evidence that tended to demonstrate that the victim in the present case was the ‘‘crackhead'' described by Garcia, but that the court's ruling unfairly precluded the defense from demonstrating that there was another ‘‘actual crack-head incident'' that did not involve the victim. The court stated that Hernandez' testimony, in which she stated that Mark had referred to the victim as a ‘‘crackhead, '' did not cause it to change its ruling with respect to the parameters of defense counsel's inquiries. The court stated that its limitations did not preclude the defense from eliciting facts that tended to demonstrate that the blood on the defendant's sneaker came from the prior incident, not the incident on Baldwin Street involving the victim. The court added that the evidence that the defense sought to introduce had ‘‘a tendency to confuse the jurors in terms of the actual details of a different incident.''

         At trial, Vasquez testified with respect to the activities of November 2, 2010. He stated in relevant part that, when he returned to the automobile he was driving after he made a purchase at the ‘‘after hours'' liquor store, he discovered only Garcia inside. Garcia told him that the defendant and Mark had gone ‘‘up the street.'' Vasquez testified that he drove south on Baldwin Street until he observed the defendant and Mark running. He stopped the automobile and both men got inside. Mark, in possession of a black backpack, was ‘‘bugging out, '' stating that he had ‘‘killed the guy.'' Vasquez testified that the defendant stated that he had ‘‘kicked him, '' or that he referred to the fact that he had kicked somebody. Vasquez stated that when he arrived at the residence on Second Avenue, he observed blood on the defendant's white Nike sneakers.

         Also, Vasquez testified that ‘‘an incident'' had occurred in the hours prior to the incident on Baldwin Street, prior to the time at which he went to the ‘‘after hours'' house to purchase liquor. He stated that he, the defendant, Garcia, and Mark were present at that prior incident. During recross-examination by defense counsel, the following colloquy with Vasquez occurred:

‘‘Q. [Y]ou testified on redirect [examination] regarding my client making some comment about kicking someone, is that correct?
‘‘A. That's correct.
‘‘Q. You have no knowledge who he was referring to, correct?
‘‘A. Correct.
‘‘Q. It could have been the individual in the earlier incident, is that correct?
‘‘A. Correct.''

         Ruiz, who is the defendant's sister-in-law and Vasquez' sister, testified that she observed the defendant, Vasquez, Mark, and Garcia at her and the defendant's residence on Second Avenue in the early morning hours of November 2, 2010. When she heard them come inside the residence, she went downstairs and observed the defendant and Garcia looking inside of a black backpack. The following colloquy between the prosecutor and Ruiz occurred:

‘‘Q. Did you notice anything on either Mr. Garcia or [the defendant]?
‘‘A. I noticed blood.
‘‘Q. On where?
‘‘A. On [the defendant's] sneaker.
‘‘Q. Do you remember which sneaker it was?
‘‘A. No, I don't.
‘‘Q. And can you describe it?
‘‘A. On the side of the sneaker.
‘‘Q. And what color was it?
‘‘A. Red.
‘‘Q. And did you inquire ...

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