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State v. Anthony L.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 6, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ANTHONY L.[*]

          Argued October 16, 2017

          Stephen A. Lebedevitch, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Ronald G. Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Matthew C. Gedansky, state's attorney, and Elizabeth C. Leaming, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Norcott, Js.

          OPINION

          NORCOTT, J.

         The defendant, Anthony L., was convicted, after a jury trial, of one count of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (1), one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), and one count of sexual assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-72a (a) (2). On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the trial court abused its direction in admitting evidence of uncharged misconduct and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction on all three charges. We disagree, and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury was presented with the following evidence on which to base its verdict. The crimes with which the defendant was charged allegedly occurred between May 23, 2002, and December 31, 2003. At all relevant times, the minor complainant, along with her brother, P, and her parents resided in Massachusetts. The complainant's father was terminally ill. To prevent the complainant and her brother from seeing their father in this condition, their mother arranged for them to spend weekends and other holidays with their paternal uncle, the defendant, who lived in Connecticut. Sometimes, the defendant would pick up the children at their home in Massachusetts. At other times, he would meet their mother midway at a designated point. One day, while the complainant and the defendant were traveling in the defendant's car, and the complainant was sitting in the passenger seat, the defendant reached under the complainant's shirt and commented that ‘‘[she] was developing nicely.'' The complainant was either ten or eleven years old at this time.

         In a subsequent visit to the defendant's house, the complainant asked the defendant if they could rent and watch a movie called ‘‘American Pie'' because the complainant's mother previously had forbidden her from watching it; the defendant agreed. After renting the movie, the defendant and the complainant were driving back to the defendant's house when the defendant told the complainant that ‘‘he felt [she] needed an explanation as to body parts and whatnot so that way [she] could have a better understanding of the movie.'' The defendant then proceeded to put his hand ‘‘down [the complainant's] pants and put his fingers inside of [her], '' and commented, ‘‘this is your cherry, '' and that ‘‘that was the start of intercourse'' and ‘‘something [the complainant] needed to know so [she] understood the movie because the movie was about sex.'' The defendant then kept his fingers inside the complainant's vagina for the duration of the car ride to the defendant's house. Once there, the complainant and the defendant started watching the movie, with the complainant lying on a couch and the defendant sitting at the other end of the same couch. The defendant then ran his hand up the complainant's leg and digitally penetrated her vagina. The defendant repeated this abuse after the complainant went to bed that night and again on the car ride back to the complainant's mother's house. These acts occurred before May, 2002, when the complainant was ten or eleven years old.

         After that weekend, the defendant routinely would sexually abuse the complainant. The acts remained the same, i.e., digital penetration, and they would occur during car rides and when the complainant slept at the defendant's house. While there, the complainant and P would sleep in two separate bedrooms on the second floor. The bedroom where the complainant typically slept had a door that could not be locked. Here, after the complainant would fall asleep, the defendant would enter the bedroom and digitally penetrate her vagina. Afterward, he would sometimes whisper, ‘‘[y]ou're welcome, '' or, ‘‘I'm sorry, I can't help myself.''

         The defendant continued to sexually abuse the complainant after the death of her father in January, 2002, following which her visits to the defendant's house became less frequent. The final act of sexual abuse occurred in the complainant's home in Massachusetts, in December, 2003. There, the defendant digitally penetrated the complainant's vagina while sharing a blanket with her on a couch. The complainant was fifteen at the time of this last act. On December 4, 2013, the complainant reported her sexual abuse by the defendant to the Connecticut State Police. The defendant thereafter was arrested and charged with one count of sexual assault in the first degree, one count of risk of injury to a child, and one count of sexual assault in the third degree.

         Before trial commenced, the defendant filed a motion in limine to establish fair procedures regarding the admissibility of evidence of uncharged misconduct. At the hearing on his motion in limine, the defendant sought to exclude evidence of acts of sexual abuse committed prior to May 23, 2002, which were not charged in the information.[1] The defendant also sought to exclude evidence of the acts committed in the complainant's home in Massachusetts, as they were outside the jurisdictional limits of Connecticut. After hearing argument, the trial court ruled that it would admit evidence of both sets of uncharged misconduct to prove motive and intent. Subsequently, the court gave the jury a cautionary instruction after the complainant testified as to uncharged misconduct that occurred prior to May 23, 2002.[2] The court gave another cautionary instruction after the complainant testified as to uncharged misconduct that occurred outside Connecticut.[3] Finally, the court gave a cautionary instruction as to both sets of uncharged misconduct evidence during its final charge. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all three counts; this appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant claims that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of one count of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of § 53a-70 (a) (1), one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53-21 (a) (2), and one count of sexual assault in the third degree in violation of § 53a-72a (a) (2).[4] He argues that although the complainant testified in some detail as to the uncharged misconduct, her testimony as to the charged misconduct lacked sufficient specificity to prove the elements of any of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, relying on our Supreme Court's decision in State v. Stephen J. R., 309 Conn. 586, 72 A.3d 379 (2013), the defendant contends that the complainant needed to testify to at least one specific instance of sexual misconduct and provide a specific time period between May, 2002, and December, 2003, when the charged misconduct occurred. We disagree.

         ‘‘The standard of review for claims of evidentiary insufficiency is well established. In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we apply a two part test. First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the [jury] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . This court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the [jury] if there is sufficient evidence to support [its] verdict. . . . In applying that test, we do not ask whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that ...


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