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State v. Walton

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 22, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ANTOINE WALTON

          Argued May 18, 2017

          Matthew C. Eagan, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was James P. Sexton, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Bruce R. Lockwood, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Don E. Therkildsen, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Prescott and Flynn, Js.

         Syllabus

         Convicted, after a jury trial, of the crimes of robbery in the first degree, larceny in the second degree and assault on an elderly person in the third degree, the defendant appealed to this court. The defendant's conviction stemmed from an incident in which he robbed the victim of her purse in a store parking lot. The victim and two eyewitnesses gave statements to the police at the scene and later to detectives at the police station. During his closing argument to the jury, defense counsel suggested that the investigating detectives had conformed the statements given by the witnesses at the police station to make them consistent with respect to the witnesses' description of the defendant. In response, the prosecutor argued in his rebuttal closing argument that, if the detectives had wanted to fabricate evidence and to testify falsely, they could have done so in a manner more favorable to the state by stating that the defendant had told them that he had committed the subject crimes. On appeal, the defendant claims that the prosecutor's comments constituted improper vouching and misstatements of the law because they created the false impression that there was nothing to impede the detectives, other than their own honesty, from testifying falsely, when substantial legal hurdles, such as the defendant's fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, precluded the detectives from fabricating their testimony. Held that, in light of binding precedent arising out of similar facts, the prosecutor's comments were not improper nor did they misstate the law, as a prosecutor may appeal to the common sense of jurors by arguing that a witness could have told a more damning lie than the witness testified to at trial, and the comments here were a proper request for the jurors to use their common sense and to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence in assessing the credibility of the detectives; moreover, the prosecutor's hypothetical embraced a plethora of scenarios in which the fifth amendment was not implicated, and, therefore, the amendment was not a barrier to the detectives' ability to fabricate a more inculpatory confession by the defendant at trial.

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of robbery in the first degree, larceny in the second degree, and assault on an elderly person in the third degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury and tried to the jury before Crawford, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          FLYNN, J.

         The defendant, Antoine Walton, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (4), larceny in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-123 (a) (3), and assault on an elderly person in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61a (a). On appeal, the defendant claims for the first time that the prosecutor engaged in impropriety and misstated the law during rebuttal closing argument when he argued to the jury that, had the investigating detectives wanted to fabricate evidence, they would have done so in a manner that was more favorable to the state's case. The prosecutor made these remarks in response to the defendant's suggestion during his closing argument that certain detectives had conformed witness statements concerning the height, footwear and other identifying characteristics of the defendant to make them consistent. We conclude that because binding precedent arising out of similar facts controls, in light of it, the defendant has failed to show that the prosecutor's remarks were improper. We agree with the state that the prosecutor did not misstate the law, because he did not make a statement of the law, at all, and we accordingly affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are pertinent to this appeal. On January 12, 2013, the defendant snatched the purse of the victim, Mary Cardella, as she was walking into the Rite Aid store on Fairfield Avenue in Water-bury, knocking her down in the process. The store manager, Jason Simpson, went outside to assist the victm, but stopped short of the altercation when the defendant threatened to shoot him. After taking the purse, the defendant then ran off behind Rite Aid. Maureen Giordano, who had witnessed the incident, began following the defendant until he threatened to shoot her. Simpson also followed the defendant, and saw him enter building eight of 222 Fairfield Avenue, an apartment complex directly behind Rite Aid.

         Police arrived on the scene and took statements from Cardella, Simpson and Giordano. At the same time, a state police K-9 officer tracked the defendant from the scene of the incident to the lower level of building eight of 222 Fairfield Avenue, where there was a single apartment. Waterbury Police obtained consent to search the apartment from its occupant, the defendant's girlfriend. Inside, they found the defendant's state identification card.

         Cardella, Simpson and Giordano later gave statements at the police department. Both Cardella and Simpson positively identified the defendant as the robber in photographic arrays that detectives prepared. Meanwhile, the defendant's girlfriend alerted him to the search and that the police were looking for him. Thereafter, the defendant voluntarily went to the police station where he was arrested.

         The defendant was charged with robbery in the first degree, larceny in the second degree and assault on an elderly person in the third degree. During closing arguments at trial, defense counsel stated: ‘‘In [Giordano's] 911 call, she gave a physical description . . . of a tall, black male, black hat, brown, suede jacket and blue jeans . . . and work boots. . . . Now, forty minutes later she reports to the Waterbury Police Department and that physical description changes . . . to black male with a black hoodie. . . . Now, this black hoodie and the physical description are only consistent when these witnesses get to the police department and their statements are typed up by [the detectives]. Their description on the scene is totally different than what is eventually written on that paper ...


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