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State v. Raynor

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 8, 2018


          Argued January 31, 2018

         Procedural History

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

          Andrew O’Shea, with whom was Damon Kirschbaum, for the appellant (defendant).

          James A. Killen, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state’s attorney, and Patrick Griffin, state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Elgo and Eveleigh, Js.


          EVELEIGH, J.

         The defendant, Donald Raynor, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court (1) improperly denied the defendant’s motion in limine to exclude or limit the scope of the testimony of the state’s expert witness on firearm and toolmark identification, and (2) abused its discretion by granting the state’s motion for uncharged misconduct related to a shooting that occurred approximately eight months after the events of this case. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, which a jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The defendant and Jose Rivera[1] were members of the Money Green Bedrock (Bedrock) street gang in Hartford. The victim was a member of The Avenue, another Hartford street gang. Bedrock and The Avenue are rival gangs, and the defendant and Rivera viewed members of The Avenue as ‘‘the enemy.’’ Prior to the events giving rise to this case, there were two incidents between the rival gangs involving the defendant and the victim. The first incident involved the victim firing shots at the defendant and another Bedrock member. The second incident, which occurred approximately one week prior to the events of this case, involved the victim spotting the defendant and Rivera on The Avenue’s territory and subsequently taking a picture of the defendant’s vehicle leaving the area. Following the second incident, the defendant stated to Rivera that the victim ‘‘had to go,’’ which Rivera understood to mean that the victim ‘‘had to get killed for what he did.’’

         During the early morning hours of June 18, 2007, the defendant called Rivera and stated that he wanted to find members of The Avenue and test out a .223 caliber assault rifle. Rivera understood this to mean that, ‘‘[b]asically, he wanted to go look [for] and kill somebody.’’ The defendant picked up Rivera and drove to a parking lot located behind Bedford Street where there was an abandoned vehicle in which the defendant and Rivera stored guns and drugs. The defendant then put on latex gloves, removed a .223 caliber assault rifle from the trunk of the abandoned vehicle, and loaded the rifle. The defendant and Rivera then got back into the vehicle that they were driving; Rivera drove the vehicle and the defendant sat in the backseat.

         Rivera drove the vehicle around areas that he and the defendant knew were frequented by members of The Avenue. While Rivera was driving on Enfield Street, he informed the defendant that he saw the victim standing on the sidewalk having a conversation with a woman. The defendant instructed Rivera to go around the block, and Rivera complied. As Rivera turned back onto Enfield Street, he lowered the back window and began to slow down. As the vehicle approached the victim and the woman, the defendant hung out the back window and began shooting at the victim. The victim attempted to run away but made it only three steps before he fell to the ground. The defendant continued to fire at the victim while he was on the ground. He fired at least ten to fifteen shots at the victim, who died as a result of gunshot wounds to the chest and neck.

         In 2008, the police recovered a .223 Kel-Tec assault rifle in an unrelated investigation. In 2011, Rivera gave a statement to the police in which he confessed to his involvement in the victim’s murder and implicated the defendant. Rivera also identified the .223 Kel-Tec assault rifle that the police had recovered in 2008 as the weapon that the defendant used to shoot the victim. In 2014, the defendant was charged, in a long form information, with murder in violation of § 53a-54a (a), conspiracy to commit murder in violation of § 53a-54a (a) and General Statutes § 53a-48 (a), and criminal use of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-216 (a). A trial on these charges commenced in September, 2014, and ended in a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a verdict. A second trial commenced in March, 2015, in which the defendant was charged only with one count of murder in violation of § 53a-54a (a). The jury found the defendant guilty, and the court sentenced him to a total effective sentence of sixty years of imprisonment. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.


         The defendant’s first claim on appeal is that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion in limine in which he sought to exclude or limit the scope of the testimony of James Stephenson, the state’s expert firearm and toolmark examiner. The defendant raises the following arguments in support of this claim: (1) recent studies have established that the methodology underlying firearm and toolmark identification is not sufficiently reliable; (2) the court improperly denied his request for a hearing pursuant to State v. Porter, 241 Conn. 57, 698 A.2d 739 (1997), cert. denied, 523 U.S. 1058, 118 S.Ct. 1384, 140 L.Ed.2d 645 (1998), to determine the reliability of firearm and toolmark identification; (3) the court improperly allowed Stephenson to opine that various cartridge casings recovered from the crime scene were fired from a particular firearm; and (4) the court improperly denied his motion to limit the scope of Stephenson’s testimony. We disagree.

         ‘‘It is axiomatic that [t]he trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence is entitled to great deference. In this regard, the trial court is vested with wide discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence. . . . Accordingly, [t]he trial court’s ruling on evidentiary matters will be overturned only upon a showing of a clear abuse of the court’s discretion. . . . Because a trial court’s ruling under Porter involves the admissibility of evidence, we review that ruling on appeal for an abuse of discretion.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Legnani, 109 Conn.App. 399');">109 Conn.App. 399, 418, 951 A.2d 674, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 940, 959 A.2d 1007 (2008).

         ‘‘In [Porter], our Supreme Court held that scientific evidence should be subjected to a flexible test, with differing factors that are applied on a case-by-case basis, to determine the reliability of the scientific evidence. . . . The court, however, did not define what constituted scientific evidence, thereby allowing the courts to maintain some flexibility in applying the test. As a result, a court’s initial inquiry should be whether the [evidence] at issue . . . is the type of evidence contemplated by Porter. . . . In Porter, our Supreme Court noted that some scientific principles have become so well established that an explicit . . . analysis [under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)] is not necessary for admission of evidence thereunder. . . . Evidence derived from such ...

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