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State v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 10, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
SOLOMON TAYLOR

          Argued March 9, 2017

          Lisa J. Steele, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, Amy Sedensky, senior assistant state's attorney, and Dana Tal, legal intern, for the appellee (state).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Prescott, Js.

         Syllabus

         Convicted, after a trial to a three judge court, of the crimes of murder, robbery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, hindering prosecution in the second degree and tampering with physical evidence, the defendant appealed. The defendant's conviction stemmed from an incident in which he and a coconspirator, W, allegedly shot and killed the victim during an alleged drug transaction. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of murder, robbery in the first degree and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, and that the trial court improperly disqualified his first court-appointed attorney, H, on the basis of an alleged potential conflict of interest related to H's representation of J, a potentially material witness for the state in the present case, in a prior criminal case. Held:

         1. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of murder, robbery in the first degree and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree on the ground that there was no evidence that a robbery had occurred, and, therefore, there also was no proof of a conspiracy to commit robbery or of murder under the doctrine of Pinkerton v. United States (328 U.S. 640), pursuant to which a coconspirator may be found guilty of a crime that he did not commit if the state can establish that a coconspirator did commit the crime and that the crime was within the scope and in furtherance of the conspiracy, and a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy; on the basis of the evidence presented and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, which established that W agreed to buy drugs from the victim and told the defendant about it, that the defendant was a passenger in the car when W drove to the victim's home while armed, and that they convinced the victim to bring the drugs to the car and then struggled with the victim, who fought back, ultimately shooting him in the head and arm and driving away with the drugs in the car, the court reasonably could have found that the defendant and W robbed the victim, that they did so in furtherance of an agreement to commit a robbery while at least one of them was armed with a deadly weapon, and that the murder of the victim was committed in furtherance of that conspiracy and was a reasonably foreseeable consequence thereof.

         2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the state's motion to disqualify H: the defendant, who was indigent, had no constitutional right to select his appointed counsel, and the court did not act arbitrarily in disqualifying H and appointing new counsel when, as in the present case, a potential conflict of interest existed that could have compromised the integrity of the trial if H continued to represent the defendant, the court having determined that J was expected to provide key testimony regarding the firearm used in the robbery in the present case by connecting it to the prior shooting incident for which H had represented J, and, therefore, H could have experienced great difficulty in cross-examining J about the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident in which she represented J without violating J's rights; moreover, the fact that J did not ultimately testify about the defendant's use of the firearm in question could not be considered, as the trial court could not have known that J would not so testify when it ruled on the motion to disqualify, and the defendant was not prejudiced as a result of H's disqualification.

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, hindering prosecution in the second degree and tampering with physical evidence, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the court, Fasano, J., granted the state's motion to disqualify defense counsel; thereafter, the matter was tried to a three judge court, Crawford, Roraback and Moll, Js.; finding of guilty of murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, hindering prosecution in the second degree and tampering with physical evidence; subsequently, the court, Crawford, Roraback and Moll, Js., vacated the finding of guilty on the charges of felony murder and attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, and rendered judgment of guilty of murder, robbery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, hindering prosecution in the second degree and tampering with physical evidence, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The defendant, Solomon Taylor, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a trial before a three judge court, on charges that included murder, under the Pinkerton doctrine, [1] in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (2), and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134 (a) (2).[2] On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for murder, robbery in the first degree and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree because the evidence does not support the court's findings that he and his alleged coconspirator committed or conspired to commit robbery, and (2) the court improperly disqualified his first attorney approximately twenty months before the start of his trial. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts were found by the trial court. The defendant and his alleged coconspirator, [3] Joseph Walker, [4] were long-standing and close acquaintances. They had known each other for years, and Walker and the defendant's sister have a child together. On May 12, 2012, between 7 and 8 p.m., the defendant, Walker and some other friends went to the apartment of Alexia Bates, the defendant's girlfriend, stayed for approximately half an hour to forty-five minutes, and then left.

         That same day, the victim, David Caban, called his cousin, Angelo Caban (Angelo), and informed him that he had money he owed Angelo and that Angelo could come to his home that evening to pick it up. The victim lived at 127 Proctor Street in Waterbury with his girlfriend, Lourdes Santana. Santana overheard the victim on his cell phone, saying something about ‘‘G's.'' She knew this was a reference to grams and that the victim's nickname, Yayo, meant cocaine. Santana saw that the victim received a phone call that evening from Walker. She recognized the name on the phone from a call that the victim had received two or three days prior. The earlier call had come while the victim was in the shower. He had asked her to answer the phone and give Walker directions to the house.[5] The victim told her that he had been in jail with Walker, and Santana knew that he had been in jail for selling cocaine. After that earlier phone call, Walker had come by the house, and Santana had seen the white Mitsubishi Galant that he was driving. The victim had gone outside to the car for five to ten minutes.

         On May 12, 2012, Angelo arrived between 8 and 8:30 p.m., and saw the victim's friend, Anthony Jackson, outside the victim's home. The victim told Jackson that he was waiting for someone. Inside, Angelo saw the victim pacing while the victim was talking on the phone. The victim told Angelo that he was going to ‘‘bust a trap, '' meaning he was going to make a drug transaction. Angelo knew that the victim sold narcotics and that his repayment by the victim would come from a drug sale. Shortly after Angelo arrived at the house, after the phone call from Walker to the victim, Angelo was looking out the kitchen window when he saw a four door Mitsubishi Galant pull up with two black males in it, one in the driver's seat and one in the front passenger seat. This car later was identified as the white Mitsubishi Galant owned by Bates, which the defendant used more than she did.

         The victim went outside, saying he was going to talk to ‘‘his boy.'' He went to the Mitsubishi, greeted the occupants of the car and got halfway into the car through the rear passenger side door. Then the victim got out of the car and went inside the house. After entering the bedroom for fifteen to twenty seconds, he came out with something in his hand, which he held ‘‘cupped'' to his side. As he walked downstairs, he told Angelo to stay where he was and watch over him. He returned to the Mitsubishi and sat in the rear passenger side.

         Angelo looked out the window and saw the victim give ‘‘dap'' (a greeting or locking of hands). Angelo then went outside, where he had a clear view of the Mitsubishi. He saw the victim struggle with someone in the front seat. He also heard muffled gunshots and saw sparks from a gun. Angelo saw the victim grab one of the males in the front seat of the car by the wrist after the victim had been shot in the arm. The other occupant then reached around and shot the victim in the head. Angelo went to the backseat and tried to pull the victim out of the car. He then went around the back of the car, and Walker, who was in the driver's seat, got out of the car and put a dark metal gun in his face. The person in the passenger seat got out of the car and said to Walker, ‘‘[y]o, forget it.'' When Walker turned toward the passenger, Angelo smacked his hand and ran back to his own car, which was parked behind the Mitsubishi.

         Jackson, still sitting outside the victim's home, also saw the Mitsubishi Galant pull up with two black males in it. He saw the victim come outside and get in the backseat. Jackson then saw tussling, heard gunshots and saw sparks in the middle of the back of the car. He got up, grabbed a scooter and ran to the passenger side. He broke the front window with the scooter and leaned in and tried to hit the man in the passenger seat. When he saw a chrome shiny object in the passenger's hand, he ran. The Mitsubishi was gone when he returned.

         Santana was in the bedroom when her mother came in and told her that they were shooting at the victim outside. Santana ran to the door, looked outside and saw the victim in the back trying to get out of the Mitsubishi and someone trying to pull him back into the car, then saw the car take off. She tried several times to reach the victim on his cell phone. The first time she called, a man answered. She asked for the victim and the person hung up. She called again and yelled into the phone, and the person hung up. Angelo and Santana tried to follow the Mitsubishi in Angelo's car. They found the victim at the side of the curb on Sylvan Avenue near the intersection with Proctor Street, lying on the ground on his stomach with blood coming from his head.

         The defendant and Walker returned to Bates' house in the Mitsubishi at approximately 9:30 p.m. Walker went into the bathroom and would not let anyone in with him. The defendant called Bates into the bedroom. He was pacing and rambling. The defendant told Bates that ‘‘crap went wrong'' and that Walker had been shot. Bates saw blood on the top of the defendant's underwear. The defendant had a phone in his possession that kept ringing, and when he answered it, Bates could hear a girl screaming on the other end. The defendant looked confused.

         The defendant ordered Bates to get his gun from the car. She described the gun as small and dark colored. She had seen it two or three times within one month and knew the defendant kept it in the baseboard heater. She retrieved the gun from the car and gave it to the defendant, who put it in his waistband.

         The defendant then told her to go clean the car. She collected some cleaning supplies, and she and the defendant went down to the car. When Bates and the defendant got to the car, she saw the front passenger window smashed out, a hole in the roof and blood on the front passenger seat, back passenger seat and floor. She found both of the defendant's phones on the floor under the seat. One was a red phone, identical to the one he had in his possession that had been ringing. The defendant, on Bates' discovery of both of his phones in the car, realized the phone that had been ringing in the bedroom was not his. The defendant then said it was ‘‘Son's''[6] phone, and he smashed Son's phone in the driveway. Someone across the street returned it to him, but he smashed it a second time and threw it away. Bates also saw crack on the floor of the car. Some of the pieces of crack had blood on them. She collected the crack, placed it in a sandwich bag and gave it to ...


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