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State v. Soyini

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 13, 2018


          Argued September 25, 2017

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder as an accessory and conspiracy to commit murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the jury before Kwak, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Tejas Bhatt, assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Jennifer L. Bourn, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Leonard C. Boyle, deputy chief state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and John F. Fahey, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Elgo and Harper, Js.


          DIPENTIMA, C. J.

         The defendant, Quan Soyini, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of being an accessory to murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a[1] and 53a-8[2] and conspiracy to commit murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a and 53a-48.[3] On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction of both crimes, (2) the court's improper jury instructions violated his right to a fair trial and (3) the court committed plain error by giving a special credibility instruction on accomplice testimony, which was unwarranted in this case. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of conviction.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. In early July, 2013, the defendant and his brothers, Kunta Soyini (Kunta) and Quincy Soyini (Quincy), attended the funeral of their father. At the funeral, the defendant revealed to Quincy that he had been robbed at gunpoint while selling marijuana to the victim, Chimer Gordon.[4] On the day of the robbery, the defendant had asked Kunta to help him find the victim, but the two brothers were unable to locate him.

         Subsequently, on July 10, 2013, at approximately 10 a.m., the defendant saw the victim and called Kunta. Kunta drove to the defendant's location on Vine Street in Hartford. At that time, the defendant was driving a black Audi. Both Kunta and the defendant searched for the victim.

         At some point, the victim became fearful and ran into the house of Robert Davis and Gussie Mae Davis, which was located on Greenfield Street. After apologizing for the intrusion, the victim stated to the Davises that ‘‘they was trying to kill'' him and that if he called the police ‘‘they're gonna kill my family.'' (Emphasis added.) Gussie Mae Davis called 911, reporting that the victim, after entering her home, had stated that ‘‘guys was after him to kill him.'' (Emphasis added.) The victim, after exiting the residence, ran into the parking lot of the Thirman Milner School (school), which is located behind the Davises' house. Moments later, the defendant drove up to the house and asked Robert Davis if ‘‘a guy'' had run through the house.

         At this point, Kunta drove down Magnolia Street and saw the victim, who was wearing clothing that matched the description he had received from the defendant.[5]Kunta had no prior or pending disagreements with the victim and did not know him at all.[6] Kunta exited his motor vehicle, walked through the school parking lot and approached the victim, who was crouched between parked cars.[7] Kunta walked through the parking lot in the direction of the victim while talking on a cell phone and with his left hand in his pocket. Kunta then faced the victim and, when he was at a distance greater than one car length, removed a firearm from his left pants pocket. The victim was tying his shoe as Kunta aimed the firearm at him. The victim then turned to his left, got up and ran. While pursuing him, Kunta shot at the victim from close range, but missed. Kunta continued to chase the victim as he ran through the parking lot.[8]

         A few moments later, the defendant, wearing a black T-shirt, black and red shorts, black ankle length socks and flip-flops, walked through the school parking lot in the opposite direction from Kunta.[9] As Roderick Maxwell, a special police officer employed by the Hartford Board of Education, investigated the noises that he had heard, he encountered the defendant. The defendant told Maxwell, ‘‘don't worry about a thing.''[10]

         The victim unsuccessfully attempted to scale a gate. Kunta then shot the victim in the chest, got in his car, and drove away.[11] Maxwell heard Kunta emit a ‘‘ghastly, nightmarish laugh'' as he left the area.

         Jay Montrose, a Hartford police officer, responded to the 911 call. Montrose spoke with the Davises and then went outside, where he learned from Maxwell that the victim was lying on the ground near a fence. After driving his police vehicle into the school's parking lot, Montrose observed that the victim had suffered a gunshot wound and had lost a fair amount of blood. Montrose commenced resuscitation efforts on the victim. Medical personnel arrived shortly thereafter and transported the victim to a hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries and died.[12]

         Reginald Early, a sergeant in the Hartford Police Department, was assigned to investigate this homicide. He reviewed a video recording of the school parking lot. Early also learned that a black Audi had been circling the neighborhood prior to the shooting. The defendant was inside the car when investigating officers located the black Audi approximately one block from the school. The officers arrested the defendant on an unrelated charge of possession of marijuana with intent to sell. Early concluded that the defendant was wearing the same clothes as the person on the video recording who had walked through the school parking lot shortly after the initial shooting.

         Joseph Fargnoli, a Hartford police detective, interviewed the defendant following his arrest. He showed the recording from the school parking lot to the defendant, who confirmed that he and Kunta were the men in the recording. The defendant denied knowing the victim or how he had died. The defendant did, however, admit that he had spoken to an ‘‘old guy'' on Greenfield Street that morning, asking if a ‘‘kid'' had run through the house.

         Fargnoli, who had examined the defendant's cell phone records, [13] determined that the defendant had called Kunta first on the day of the shooting. The defendant, however, stated during his interview that Kunta had called him first, asking the defendant to ‘‘come over . . . .''[14]

         On the morning of the shooting, Kunta had driven his girlfriend, Shumia Brown, to work in Bloomfield at 4 a.m. Kunta was supposed to pick Brown up at 11 a.m., but was late. When he finally arrived, Brown voiced her displeasure with his tardiness, particularly because Kunta was using her motor vehicle. He explained that he ‘‘got caught up in some mess with [the defendant]'' but did not elaborate.

         Later that day, Kunta told Brown that the defendant had called him and instructed that they meet on Vine Street because the defendant ‘‘ran into who had robbed him before.'' After traveling home, Kunta and Brown watched the afternoon news, and there was a story about the shooting at the school. Brown observed that Kunta started acting ‘‘funny'' and not ‘‘like himself.'' Brown asked if Kunta and the defendant had anything to do with the shooting, and he hesitated in his response. At that point, Brown believed that Kunta had been involved in the shooting. Kunta then admitted to his involvement in the shooting. Additionally, at a later date, Kunta stated, during a phone conversation with Brown, that he had gotten ‘‘involved in some drama behind [the defendant].''

         Following the defendant's arrest, Kunta fled to Virginia. He eventually was taken into custody by United States marshals and returned to Connecticut. Following his return, Kunta pleaded guilty to murdering the victim. In a statement to the police, Kunta noted that on the day of the shooting, the defendant had found the victim ‘‘walking around'' and called to request that Kunta ‘‘help him.''

         In an information dated May 27, 2015, the state charged the defendant with being an accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The defendant pleaded not guilty, and his trial spanned several days in July, 2015. The jury found him guilty on both counts. The defendant received a total effective sentence of seventy years incarceration, with twenty-six years being the mandatory minimum. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.


         The defendant first claims that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction of murder as an accessory and conspiracy to commit murder.[15] Specifically, he argues that the state failed to present sufficient evidence that he had intended to kill the victim, an element common to both crimes. Additionally, the defendant contends there was insufficient evidence that he aided Kunta in the shooting of the victim or that he formed an agreement with Kunta to cause the death of the victim. The state counters that there was ‘‘ample'' evidence to support the defendant's conviction of murder as an accessory and conspiracy to commit murder. We agree with the state that there was sufficient evidence to support the defendant's conviction of both crimes.

         Initially, we set forth our well established standard of review. ‘‘In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction 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 [finder of fact] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .

         ‘‘We note that the jury must find every element proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the defendant guilty of the charged offense, [but] each of the basic and inferred facts underlying those conclusions need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . If it is reasonable and logical for the jury to conclude that a basic fact or an inferred fact is true, the jury is permitted to consider the fact proven and may consider it in combination with other proven facts in determining whether the cumulative effect of all the evidence proves the defendant guilty of all the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .

         ‘‘Moreover, it does not diminish the probative force of the evidence that it consists, in whole or in part, of evidence that is circumstantial rather than direct. . . . It is not one fact, but the cumulative impact of a multitude of facts which establishes guilt in a case involving substantial circumstantial evidence. . . . In evaluating evidence, the [finder] of fact is not required to accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant's innocence. . . . The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence it deems to be reasonable and logical. . . .

         ‘‘Finally, [a]s we have often noted, proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt . . . nor does proof beyond a reasonable doubt require acceptance of every hypothesis of innocence posed by the defendant that, had it been found credible by the [finder of fact], would have resulted in an acquittal. . . . On appeal, 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 supports the [finder of fact's] verdict of guilty.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Crespo, 317 Conn. 1, 16-17, 115 A.3d 447 (2015); see also State v. Otto, 305 Conn. 51, 65-66, 43 A.3d 629 (2012). Mindful of this standard of review, we consider the defendant's arguments in turn.


         The defendant first argues that the state failed to prove that he had the intent to cause the death of the victim, an element necessary for both crimes. See generally State v. Patterson, 213 Conn. 708, 712, 570 A.2d 174 (1990) (sufficient evidence at probable cause hearing of defendant's intent to cause death was prerequisite to continuing prosecution of defendant on accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit murder counts). We are not persuaded.

         Our Supreme Court has recognized that ‘‘[i]n order to be convicted under our murder statute, the defendant must possess the specific intent to cause the death of the victim. . . . To act intentionally, the defendant must have had the conscious objective to cause the death of the victim. . . . Intent is generally proven by circumstantial evidence because direct evidence of the accused's state of mind is rarely available. . . . Therefore, intent is often inferred from conduct . . . and from the cumulative effect of the circumstantial evidence and the rational inferences drawn therefrom. Intent is a question of fact, the determination of which should stand unless the conclusion drawn by the trier is an unreasonable one.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Bennett, 307 Conn. 758, 765-66, 59 A.3d 221 (2013). A defendant's state of mind often is the most significant and most elusive element of the charged crimes. State v. Bonilla, 317 Conn. 758, 766, 120 A.3d 481 (2015). ‘‘[I]ntent may be proven by conduct before, during and after [a] shooting. Such conduct yields facts and inferences that demonstrate a pattern of behavior and attitude toward the victim by the defendant that is probative of the defendant's mental state.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.; see also State v. Carter, 317 Conn. 845, 856-59, 120 A.3d 1229 (2015).

         The defendant relies on the following in support of his claim: ‘‘[He] did not lead the victim to the shooter; and he did not distract the victim or act as a lookout. . . . [He] was not present when [the victim] was killed; he did not assist Kunta in fleeing the scene, nor did he depart with Kunta; and he did not commit another felony while in [the victim's] presence. . . . [T]he defendant here did not assist Kunta in fleeing the scene, and did not attempt to avoid apprehension. Finally, the existence of phone records to contradict some of this defendant's statements . . . should not be sufficient to sustain these convictions.'' We are not persuaded by these arguments.


         As a preliminary matter, we set forth the elements of and relevant legal principles applicable to the crimes of murder as an accessory and conspiracy to commit murder. First, we note that ‘‘[t]his state . . . long ago adopted the rule that there is no practical significance in being labeled an accessory or a principal for the purpose of determining criminal responsibility. . . . Under the modern approach, a person is legally accountable for the conduct of another when he is an accomplice of the other person in the commission of the crime. . . . [T]here is no such crime as being an accessory . . . . The accessory statute merely provides alternate means by which a substantive crime may be committed.'' (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v.Smith, 86 Conn.App. 259, 266, 860 A.2d 801 (2004); State v.Wright, 77 Conn.App. 80, 92, 822 A.2d 940, cert. denied, 266 Conn. 913, 833 A.2d 466 ...

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