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State v. Angel M.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 20, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ANGEL M.[*]

          Argued September 22, 2017

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of sexual assault in the first degree, attempt to commit sexual assault in the first degree and risk of injury to a child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Mullarkey, J., denied the defendant's motion to preclude certain evidence; thereafter the case was tried to the jury; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Pamela S. Nagy, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy and Anne Mahoney, state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Mullins and Elgo, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The defendant, Angel M., appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2), attempt to commit sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-49 and 53a-70 (a) (2), and risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2). On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the trial court erred by admitting uncharged sexual misconduct evidence, (2) the prosecutor engaged in impropriety that deprived him of the constitutional right to a fair trial, and (3) the trial court violated his right to due process at sentencing by penalizing him for exercising his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Although we agree with the defendant that one of the prosecutor's comments was improper, we, nevertheless, conclude that the defendant was not deprived of his due process right to a fair trial. We reject the defendant's other claims, and we, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         On the basis of the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. M is the mother of the victim. M became romantically involved with the defendant when the victim was approximately three or four years old. M had two children, G and the victim, from a previous relationship. The defendant was a father figure to the victim, and she was considered his stepdaughter.

         Approximately one year after the defendant and M began dating, they had a child together named A. At some point in 2000, the defendant moved in with M. They lived together with the three children, the victim, G, and A, in an apartment in Hartford until they purchased a house in 2008.

         In 2006 or 2007, when the victim was approximately twelve years old, [1] she arrived home after school and went into her mother's bedroom to play a game on the family's computer. While she was playing on the computer, the defendant came up behind her and began kissing her neck. The victim froze. Then the defendant picked her up and threw her on the bed. He locked the bedroom door and ‘‘did something near the side of the bed'' before lifting up the victim's shirt and licking her breasts. The defendant proceeded to lick the victim's vagina before taking off his pants and attempting to put his penis in her vagina. The victim closed her legs, and the defendant got off of her.[2]

         Several years after that incident, on the evening of December 18, 2011, the defendant and M were involved in an incident outside of a restaurant in Newington. That evening, M had gone to the restaurant without the defendant. She was socializing with a female friend and another man. The defendant, who had been waiting impatiently for her to come home, decided to go to the restaurant to find her. When he arrived, he saw M socializing with a man he did not recognize. He became angry. He confronted M in the parking lot and an argument ensued. The defendant struck M multiple times. The police arrived shortly thereafter and arrested the defendant. In January, 2012, a protective order was issued as a result of the incident. Thereafter, the defendant stopped providing financial assistance to M, and he moved out of the house and into his own apartment.

         Shortly after the defendant moved out of the house, A ceased all communication with him. The lack of communication between A and the defendant concerned M. As a result, M asked the victim to talk to A in order to figure out why A was ignoring the defendant. On February 7, 2012, the victim started a conversation with A via text messages concerning the change in her relationship with the defendant. In those communications, A told the victim that the defendant had molested her. The victim also revealed that the defendant had molested her, and the victim encouraged A to tell their mother.

         Shortly after this conversation, the victim told M that A had been abused by the defendant. Upon learning about the abuse, M contacted A's therapist, Mary Mer-cado, who reported the abuse to the Department of Children and Families (department). The department referred the case to the Hartford Police Department, and Detective Frank Verrengia investigated the case. The victim and A both participated in forensic interviews in March, 2012. The victim disclosed her abuse during the forensic interview on March 8, 2012. Following an investigation, the police arrested the defendant on April 18, 2013. The case involving A, however, was administratively closed in May, 2013.

         The state charged the defendant with one count of sexual assault in the first degree, one count of attempt to commit sexual assault in the first degree, and one count of risk of injury to a child. At trial, the defendant's theory of defense was that the victim and her sister both fabricated the allegations of sexual abuse. Specifically, he claimed that they made these false allegations in retaliation for his having hit their mother during the restaurant incident, and for withdrawing all financial support from the family after moving out of the house. The jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. The court accepted the verdict, rendered a judgment of conviction, and sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of forty-five years imprisonment, execution suspended after thirty-three years, with twenty-five years of probation. This appeal followed.

         I

         The defendant first claims that the trial court abused its discretion by permitting the state to introduce evidence regarding uncharged sexual misconduct involving A, the defendant's biological daughter. We are not persuaded.

         The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to our discussion. Prior to trial, the state filed a ‘‘notice of other evidence'' detailing the expected testimony of A regarding three incidents of the defendant's prior uncharged sexual misconduct with respect to her. The defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to preclude A's testimony concerning uncharged sexual misconduct, and the court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury.

         At the hearing, A testified that the defendant began abusing her when she was eleven years old, approximately four or five years after the sexual abuse of the victim.[3] The first incident occurred while the defendant still was living in the family's house in Hartford. A was talking to the defendant in his bedroom when he started to tongue kiss her. The defendant removed her shirt and continued kissing her, but she was able to push him off of her. She put her shirt back on and left the bedroom. The second incident occurred approximately one week later. This time the defendant attempted to remove A's shirt and touch her breasts at the family home. A was able to get away from him because her sister-in-law arrived at the house and interrupted him. The third incident occurred after the defendant had moved out of the family home to his own apartment. Again, the defendant started by tongue kissing her, and, then, he removed her shirt. The defendant was trying to touch her vagina and breasts, despite A's attempts to push him off of her. During this incident, the defendant attempted to get undressed while he continued touching A, until she suggested that they go to the movies in order to get out of the house.

         After hearing argument from both the state and the defendant, the court issued an oral decision on the motion in limine. The court ruled that A's testimony was admissible. The court found that there were a number of similarities between the uncharged conduct and the charged offense, namely, that A was approximately the same age as was the victim at the time of the alleged abuse, that the sisters looked very similar physically, that the defendant was in a position of authority over both girls, and that the pattern of the conduct that began with kissing and progressed to touching and disrobing was consistent. Finally, the court also concluded that the evidence was more probative than prejudicial.

         Following the court's ruling on the uncharged misconduct, the jury heard A's testimony with regard to the three instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendant. At the conclusion of her testimony, the court issued a limiting instruction to the jury. Also, in its final charge to the jury, the court specifically explained that ‘‘evidence of the defendant's commission of another offense or offenses is admissible and may be considered by you for its bearing on any propensity or tendency to engage in criminal sexual behavior. However, evidence of another offense on its own is not sufficient to prove the defendant guilty of the crimes charged in the Information.''

         We begin by setting forth the applicable standard of review and legal principles that govern our analysis of the defendant's claim. ‘‘The admission of evidence of . . . uncharged misconduct is a decision properly within the discretion of the trial court. . . . [E]very reasonable presumption should be given in favor of the trial court's ruling. . . . [T]he trial court's decision will be reversed only where abuse of discretion is manifest or where an injustice appears to have been done. . . . [T]he burden to prove the harmfulness of an improper evidentiary ruling is borne by the defendant . . . [who] must show that it is more probable than not that the erroneous action of the court affected the result.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. George A., 308 Conn. 274, 295, 63 A.3d 918 (2013).

         ‘‘Generally, [e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts of a person is inadmissible to prove the bad character, propensity, or criminal tendencies of that person . . . . Conn. Code Evid. § 4-5 (a). Exceptions exist, however, and [e]vidence of other sexual misconduct is admissible in a criminal case to establish that the defendant had a tendency or a propensity to engage in aberrant and compulsive sexual misconduct if certain conditions are satisfied. Conn. Code Evid. § 4-5 (b).'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Acosta, 326 Conn. 405, 411-12, 164 A.3d 672 (2017).

         ‘‘Evidence of prior sexual misconduct . . . may be admitted to prove propensity in a sex crime case pursuant to our Supreme Court's holding in State v. DeJesus, 288 Conn. 418, 476, 953 A.2d 45 (2008), if (1) the trial court finds that such evidence is relevant to the charged crime in that it is not too remote in time, is similar to the offense charged and is committed upon persons similar to the prosecuting witness; and (2) the trial court concludes that the probative value of such evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect. The trial court must [also] . . . provide an appropriate limiting instruction.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Gonzalez, 167 Conn.App. 298, 306-307, 142 A.3d 1227, cert. denied, 323 Conn. 929, 149 A.3d 500 (2016).

         On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly admitted into evidence the uncharged misconduct testimony. Specifically, the defendant argues that the conduct involving A ‘‘was significantly different from his conduct with [the victim], and the things they had in common were merely general similarities that occur in the majority of sexual assault cases.'' The defendant further argues that the probative value of A's testimony did not outweigh its prejudicial effect.

         We disagree.

         The first prong in our relevancy analysis requires that we evaluate the time between the charged and uncharged misconduct. Here, although the sexual abuse of the victim occurred approximately four or five years[4]prior to the abuse of A, a gap in time is not dispositive in our analysis. See, e.g., State v. Antonaras, 137 Conn.App. 703, 717, 49 A.3d 783 (‘‘[e]ven a relatively long hiatus between the charged and uncharged misconduct . . . is not, by itself, determinative . . . especially when there are distinct parallels between the prior misconduct and the charged misconduct'' [internal quotation marks omitted]), cert. denied, 307 Conn. 936, 56 A.3d 716 (2012). In fact, this court has concluded that a gap of twelve years between charged and uncharged misconduct; id., 716; was ‘‘not too remote to render the uncharged misconduct irrelevant to prove that the defendant had a propensity to engage in the charged abuse, particularly in light of the other two prongs.'' Id., 717. Therefore, the gap of four or five years, in the circumstances of this case, does not render the uncharged misconduct too remote in time.

         As to the second prong of our relevancy analysis, namely, the similarity of the uncharged misconduct to the charged offense, the defendant argues that the conduct alleged by A is dissimilar both in frequency and severity to the charged offense. The defendant specifically claims that whereas A testified that he had molested her on three separate occasions, the victim recounted only one incident.[5] Also, the defendant claims that the conduct involved in the charged offense was more severe than the uncharged conduct because it involved cunnilingus and attempted vaginal penetration, rather than only ‘‘kissing and touching'' A. We are not persuaded.

         ‘‘It is well established that the victim and the conduct at issue need only be similar-not identical-to sustain the admission of uncharged misconduct evidence. . . . Additionally, differences in the severity of misconduct may not illustrate a behavioral distinction of any significance when a victim rebuffs or reports the misconduct.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Acosta, supra, 326 Conn. 416.

         ‘‘With respect to the similarity of the charged and uncharged misconduct, this court has repeatedly recognized that it need not be so unusual and distinctive as to be like a signature . . . . Rather, the question is whether the evidence is sufficiently similar to demonstrate a propensity to engage in the type of aberrant and compulsive criminal sexual behavior with which [the defendant] . . . [was] charged.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Devon D., 321 Conn. 656, 668, 138 A.3d 849 (2016).

         In the present case, the charged and uncharged misconduct are sufficiently similar to be relevant. The incidents all occurred in the defendant's bedroom when he was alone with each girl. In each instance of abuse, the defendant began by kissing the girls before undressing them. The defendant attempted to touch each girl's breasts and vagina. A testified that she attempted to push the defendant off of her on each occasion that he kissed and touched her, and, on one occasion, the abuse only stopped because A's sister-in-law arrived at the defendant's house and interrupted the incident. Although A did not claim that the defendant performed cunnilingus during any of the incidents, or that he attempted to vaginally penetrate her, we conclude that this does ‘‘not illustrate a behavioral distinction of any significance'' under these circumstances. (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Acosta, supra, 326 Conn. 416. Indeed, the defendant's assaults on A were substantially similar to, and mirrored, the initial stages of the assault on the victim. See State v. Barry A., 145 Conn.App. 582, 593, 76 A.3d 211, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 936, 79 A.3d 889 (2013). Also, this court has stated that ‘‘[a]n escalation of sexual assault does not deprive the state of the ability to present the uncharged misconduct.'' Id. Furthermore, because A rebuffed the defendant's misconduct, the difference in severity does not present a significant behavioral distinction. Thus, under these circumstances, the court properly concluded that the defendant's conduct was sufficiently similar.

         Regarding the third and final relevancy prong, the similarity between the witness and the victim, the defendant argues that ‘‘there is a qualitative difference between [the] defendant sexually abusing his own biological daughter and abusing someone unrelated to [him].'' We disagree.

         First, the trial court specifically noted that the two girls were near the same age when the abuse occurred, they are ‘‘startlingly similar in appearance, '' and the defendant was a parental figure to both girls. Second, the defendant had lived with the victim since she was approximately five or six years old, and he was regarded as her stepfather. Indeed, he considered her to be his stepdaughter, and she considered him to be her stepfather. Considering the similarities of the two girls in this case, and the nature of the defendant's relationship with each girl, it is insignificant that the victim was his stepdaughter rather than his biological daughter. See State v. Barry A., supra, 145 Conn.App. 584, 593 (witness and victim similar despite fact that victim was defendant's adopted child and witness was defendant's biological daughter).

         Having concluded that the trial court properly found the uncharged misconduct evidence was relevant under the DeJesus factors, we consider whether the trial court properly concluded that its probative value was not outweighed by its prejudicial effect. The defendant claims that the probative value of the uncharged misconduct involving A was outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Specifically, the defendant argues that A's testimony involved incest and, therefore, it was ‘‘even more egregious than his conduct involving [the victim].'' We disagree.

         ‘‘We previously have held that the process of balancing probative value and prejudicial effect is critical to the determination of whether other crime[s] evidence is admissible. . . . At the same time, however, we . . . do not . . . requir[e] a trial court to use some talismanic phraseology in order to satisfy this balancing process. Rather . . . in order for this test to be satisfied, a reviewing court must be able to infer from the entire record that the trial court considered the prejudicial effect of the evidence against its probative nature before making a ruling. . . . In conducting this balancing test, the question before the trial court is not whether [the evidence] is damaging to the defendant but whether [the evidence] will improperly arouse the emotions of the jur[ors].'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Devon D., supra, 321 Conn. 673. Additionally, ‘‘[p]roper limiting instructions often mitigate the prejudicial impact of evidence of prior misconduct. . . . Furthermore, a jury is presumed to have followed a court's limiting instructions, which serves to lessen any prejudice resulting from the admission of such evidence.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Morales, 164 Conn.App. 143, 180, 136 A.3d 278, cert. denied, 321 Conn. 916, 136 A.3d 1275 (2016).

         Upon our review of the record, it is evident that the trial court considered the prejudicial effect of the evidence. In its oral decision, the court noted that the evidence ‘‘is not shocking [and] doesn't unduly delay the trial. . . . [W]hile it's not helpful to the defendant, the probative value here strongly outweighs the prejudicial effect.'' We agree and conclude that, although the uncharged misconduct evidence was not helpful to the defendant, it was not the type of evidence that improperly would arouse the emotions of the jury. In light of the fact that the victim was regarded as the defendant's stepdaughter, the defendant's assertion that because A's testimony involved incest, the uncharged misconduct was even more egregious than the charged crime, is unavailing. Moreover, the uncharged misconduct was less severe than the charged misconduct-i.e., groping versus cunnilingus and attempted vaginal penetration.

         Furthermore, at the conclusion of A's testimony, the court issued a limiting instruction explaining to the jury the appropriate use of uncharged misconduct evidence. Additionally, the court issued another limiting instruction in its final charge to the jury at the close of the evidence. The limiting instructions minimized any prejudicial effect of this evidence. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting A to testify regarding the uncharged sexual misconduct.

         II

         The defendant next claims that the prosecutor committed several improprieties during cross-examination and closing argument that deprived him of a fair trial. Specifically, he claims that the prosecutor improperly (1) asked the defendant to comment on other witnesses' credibility in violation of State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693, 793 A.2d 226 (2002), (2) referred to facts not in evidence, and (3) appealed to the jury's emotions, passions, and prejudices. We will address each of these claims in turn.

         Before addressing each specific claim of impropriety, the following general principles guide our analysis. ‘‘In analyzing claims of prosecutorial impropriety, we engage in a two step analytical process. . . . We first examine whether prosecutorial impropriety occurred.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Carlos E., 158 Conn.App. 646, 659-60, 120 A.3d 1239, cert. denied, 319 Conn. 909, 125 A.3d 199 (2015). ‘‘Second, if an impropriety exists, we then examine whether it deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial. . . . In other words, an impropriety is an impropriety, regardless of its ultimate effect on the fairness of the trial. Whether that impropriety was harmful and thus caused or contributed to a due process violation involves a separate and distinct inquiry.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 660.

         ‘‘The defendant bears the burden of satisfying both of these analytical steps. . . . In evaluating whether a defendant has carried that burden, we recognize that prosecutorial inquiries or comments that might be questionable when read in a vacuum often are, indeed, appropriate when review[ed] . . . in the context of the entire trial.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. O'Brien-Veader, 318 Conn. 514, 524, 122 A.3d 555 (2015).

         A

         The defendant first claims that the prosecutor improperly asked him to comment on the veracity of other witnesses during cross-examination in violation of State v. Singh, supra, 259 Conn. 693. The state argues that the prosecutor ‘‘did not ask the defendant to comment on the veracity of other witnesses, but, rather, [she] rhetorically challenged the defendant's testimony denying the accusations, and suggesting that the girls may have been motivated to falsely accuse him.'' We agree with the defendant.

         The following additional facts are relevant to our consideration of the defendant's claim. At trial, the defendant testified on his own behalf. On both direct examination and cross-examination, the defendant denied the allegations made by both A and the victim. The prosecutor asked the defendant: ‘‘But you have no explanation for these allegations that [A] is saying that you sexually molested her, the only explanation you have other than it's the truth, is that you left the home and she might have been upset about that?'' The prosecutor further inquired, ‘‘but you know the girls are telling the truth, don't you?'' The defendant responded by stating: ‘‘They're lying.''

         We begin by recognizing that ‘‘[i]t is well established that questions seeking a witness' opinion regarding the veracity of another witness are barred. . . . The underlying basis for such a rule is to prohibit a fact witness from invading the jury's exclusive function to determine the credibility of witnesses. . . . [Q]uestions of this sort . . . create the risk that the jury may conclude that, in order to acquit the defendant, it must find that the witness has lied. . . . This prohibition includes questions that ask whether another witness is lying, mistaken, wrong, or incorrect.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Rios, 171 Conn.App. 1, 31, 156 A.3d 18, cert. denied, 325 Conn. 914, 159 A.3d 232 (2017).

         A review of the transcript demonstrates that the prosecutor's questions sought the defendant's opinion regarding the veracity of A and the victim. Although framed rhetorically, the prosecutor still asked the defendant to comment on the truth of the testimony given by the victim and A. This is precisely the line of questioning that is prohibited by Singh. Accordingly, we conclude that the prosecutor's questions were improper.

         B

         The defendant next claims that on multiple occasions the prosecutor improperly referred to facts not in evidence. Specifically, he claims that the prosecutor referred to facts not in evidence (1) during cross-examination of the defendant and (2) during closing rebuttal argument. We disagree.

         1

         The following additional facts are relevant to the defendant's claim. The victim testified that the defendant ‘‘did something near the side of the bed'' before attempting to ‘‘put his private'' in her. During cross-examination of the defendant, regarding his alleged conduct during the incident described by the victim, the prosecutor asked: ‘‘And you went to the cabinet to get a condom?'' Defense counsel did not object to the prosecutor's question and the defendant replied, ‘‘Nope.'' The prosecutor did not mention this colloquy or a condom in closing argument.

         The defendant argues that ‘‘[b]y improperly injecting the idea of a condom without any such evidence, the prosecutor made it appear as though [the] defendant did intend to have vaginal intercourse with the victim, thereby improperly bolstering her testimony.'' The state argues that this claim is ‘‘unreviewable because it is an evidentiary claim masquerading as a claim of prosecutorial impropriety.'' We agree with the state.

         ‘‘In State v. Stevenson, [269 Conn. 563');">269 Conn. 563, 572-73, 849 A.2d 626 (2004)], our Supreme Court held that, in cases of claimed prosecutorial impropriety, it is unnecessary for the defendant to seek to prevail under the specific requirements of State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), and, similarly, it is unnecessary for a reviewing court to apply the four-pronged Golding test. . . . Such a claim of prosecutorial impropriety must, however, be premised on conduct that is of truly constitutional magnitude, and not mere evidentiary conduct clothed in constitutional garb.'' (Footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Alex B., 150 Conn.App. 584, 588, 90 A.3d 1078, cert. denied, 312 Conn. 924, 94 A.3d 1202 (2014).

         Essentially, the defendant's claim is that the prosecutor committed an impropriety by asking an improper question. Although framed as prosecutorial impropriety, upon further review, we conclude that this claim is purely evidentiary.

         First, defense counsel did not object to the prosecutor's question, and, therefore, any evidentiary claim regarding the question is unpreserved. Second, the defendant has not alleged that the prosecutor deliberately violated a court order, which should be reviewed as prosecutorial impropriety. See State v. Williams, 102 Conn.App. 168, 176, 926 A.2d 7 (‘‘appellate courts of this state have held that evidentiary violations of a court order should be reviewed as prosecutorial [impropriety], not evidentiary errors''), cert. denied, 284 Conn. 906, 931 A.2d 267 (2007). Finally, the consequence of defense counsel's failure to object is indicative of the evidentiary nature of the defendant's claim of prosecutorial impropriety. If the defendant had objected, then the prosecutor would have had an opportunity to assert a good faith basis for asking the question.[6] See State v. Robles, 103 Conn.App. 383, 391 n.5, 930 A.2d 27 (‘‘[w]ithout trial objection, the prosecutor was denied the opportunity to present to the court the basis for questioning the witness''), cert. denied, 284 Conn. 928, 934 A.2d 244 (2007).

         ‘‘As our Supreme Court has repeatedly held, [a]ppellate review of prosecutorial [impropriety] claims is not intended to provide an avenue for the tactical sandbagging of our trial courts, but rather, to address gross prosecutorial improprieties that clearly have deprived a criminal defendant of his right to a fair trial.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Ampero, 144 Conn.App. 706, 723, 72 A.3d 435, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 914, 76 A.3d 631 (2013). Consistent with well established precedent, we decline to review the defendant's unpreserved evidentiary claim under the prosecutorial impropriety framework. See State v. Golding, supra, 213 Conn. 241 (‘‘once identified, unpreserved evidentiary claims masquerading as constitutional claims will be summarily dismissed'').

         2

         The defendant also claims that the prosecutor improperly referred to facts not in evidence during closing rebuttal argument. The defendant essentially argues that the prosecutor mischaracterized the evidence by implying that the defendant never told the police that the allegations were false. We disagree.

         The record reveals the following additional relevant facts and procedural history. Detective Frank Verrengia was the lead investigator for the cases involving A and the victim. Approximately three months after the girls' initial complaints, Verrengia interviewed the defendant at his attorney's office. Verrengia testified at the trial and, during his testimony, defense counsel attempted to elicit from him whether the defendant had denied the allegations made by A and the victim during that initial interview. The prosecutor objected on hearsay grounds and the court sustained the objection.

         During the defendant's testimony, defense counsel inquired of the defendant whether he had denied the allegations during the interview with Verrengia, and the defendant responded: ‘‘I answered all of his questions.'' When the defendant was asked how he felt when he learned about the accusations, he said: ‘‘My world collapsed. I was angry, I was stressed. I couldn't believe my family would do something like this to me, my own daughter, my stepdaughter as well.''

         On cross-examination, the prosecutor repeatedly asked the defendant whether he was able to provide Verrengia with an explanation for the allegations of sexual abuse, and he claimed that he told the detective that the victim likely was mad at him for moving out of the house and refusing to provide financial support to M.[7] Following the defendant's testimony, the prosecutor called Verrengia as a rebuttal witness. The prosecutor asked whether the defendant provided an explanation for why A would have accused him of sexual abuse, and Verrengia responded that he did not.

         Defense counsel repeatedly referred to the timing of the girls' accusations of sexual assault against the defendant in relation to the domestic violence incident. In particular, during his cross-examination of M, defense counsel emphasized the fact that the allegations of sexual assault only surfaced a mere fifty-four days after he had been arrested for hitting M, despite the fact that the sexual assaults allegedly had occurred several years prior to his assault of M. He asked M, ‘‘[i]s the reason these allegations came out fifty-four days after [the defendant] gets arrested for hitting you because you were mad at him?'' Then, in his closing argument, defense counsel argued that the girls' allegations were fabricated and that they only made these claims of sexual abuse after the domestic violence incident with M on December 18, 2011. He also referred to the interview with Verrengia, claiming that the defendant ‘‘denied the allegations and that was it.'' Defense counsel further argued: ‘‘If you didn't do something, you say I didn't do it, this is false, and that's what he did.''

         The prosecutor, in her rebuttal argument, responded to defense counsel's closing argument, arguing that the defendant could have said ‘‘this is all made up, [M] made these kids make this up because I hit her. He doesn't say any of that. He doesn't come up with any reason why [A] would say this at all and what he says with [the victim] is he says she's mad that I left the house.'' In her final remarks, the prosecutor commented: ‘‘Wouldn't you expect somebody who is falsely accused of this to say I cannot believe these children said this about me, I cannot believe [M] put them up to this? But that is not what he says when he's interviewed by the police and it's not what he says in the courtroom.''

         The defendant contends that the prosecutor mischaracterized the evidence because there was no evidence that he did not say to Verrengia that the allegations were made up. Moreover, according to the defendant, the prosecutor's comments ‘‘injected extraneous matters into the trial by suggesting that in her experience, that was how innocent people behaved.'' The state responds that the challenged remarks had an adequate basis in the evidence and were intended to challenge the defendant's theory, raised for the first time at trial, that M had encouraged the girls to make the accusations of sexual abuse. We agree with the state.

         ‘‘Claims involving prosecutorial impropriety during the course of closing arguments require a court to evaluate a prosecutor's statements not for their possible meaning, but for the manner in which the jury reasonably and likely would have understood them. Because the meaning of words and statements typically is dependent on the context in which they are used, a court must carefully consider a prosecutor's challenged statements by carefully considering their context in the entire trial, including the remainder of the state's closing argument.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Stat ...


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