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State v. Jan G.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 17, 2018

JAN G. [*]

          Argued December 11, 2017

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder and assault of an elderly person in the third degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain and tried to the jury before D'Addabbo, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Emily H. Wagner, assistant public defender, with whom was Lauren M. Weisfeld, public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Rocco A. Chiarenza, assistant state's attorney, with whom were Elizabeth M. Moseley, assistant state's attorney, and, on the brief, Brian W. Preleski, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js. [**]


          MULLINS, J.

         This appeal arises from the conviction of the defendant, Jan G., who murdered his father and physically assaulted his elderly mother. At trial, the defendant insisted upon testifying that Satan had taken over his body and performed these acts. As a result, defense counsel requested, based on the Rules of Professional Conduct generally, that the defendant be permitted to give that testimony in narrative form. The trial court granted that request, and the defendant subsequently testified to his version of events in that manner. Ultimately, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a) and assault of an elderly person in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61a (a) (1). This appeal followed.[1]

         The issue we must resolve in this appeal is whether the trial court's decision to allow the defendant to testify in narrative form caused him to be self-represented during his testimony without a proper waiver of his right to counsel. The defendant claims that State v. Francis, 317 Conn. 450, 452, 118 A.3d 529 (2015), wherein this court held that the defendant, Maurice Francis, was self-represented during his narrative testimony and that his waiver of the right to counsel was not voluntary, controls the present case and requires a new trial. Because of the factual distinctions between this case and Francis, however, we conclude that our decision in that case does not control the outcome of the present appeal. Instead, on the basis of our review of the facts and circumstances of the present case, we conclude that the defendant was not self-represented during his testimony and, therefore, is not entitled to a new trial. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. The defendant lived in the first floor apartment of a two-family home. His ninety year old father and seventy-four year old mother lived in the second floor apartment.

         On October 13, 2011, the defendant consumed a large quantity of cocaine. Thereafter, in the early morning hours of October 14, 2011, the defendant entered his parents' apartment and punched his mother in the face. The punch knocked out one of his mother's upper front teeth, cut her lip, and caused swelling and bruising extending from her left eye to the bridge of her nose. After assaulting his mother, the defendant armed himself with an ornamental sword from his apartment and knives from his parents' kitchen. With these weapons, he proceeded to attack and kill his father.

         In this attack, the defendant gouged out the father's left eye, broke his nose, slit his neck twice, and forced the handle of a potato masher down his throat. The defendant also amputated his father's penis and ate it. In all, the autopsy subsequently performed on the father's body revealed approximately seventy-six sharp force wounds.

         As the defendant attacked his father, his mother ran for help. When the police officers entered the first floor apartment, they found the defendant seated on his couch, using his computer, naked from the waist down, and covered in blood. The defendant was sweating, and it appeared to the officers that he was under the influence of some type of illicit drug. Nevertheless, the officers observed that he also appeared to understand what was being said to him. The officers discovered the lifeless body of the defendant's father on the floor of the second floor apartment. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The defendant was arrested.

         After his arrest, the defendant tested positive for cocaine and opiates. Both in his apartment and in the hospital on October 14, 2011, the defendant asserted that he was Satan. Specifically, the defendant stated the following to the officers in his apartment shortly after his arrest: ‘‘I am Satan. I made a pact with your earth and you did not keep your end of the deal. I order you to release me and take these cuffs off . . . .'' Even though the defendant identified himself as Satan at times, at other points during his interactions with the police that evening he also referred to himself by his real name. At the police department later that day, the defendant told officers ‘‘that it was the drugs . . . crack and cocaine.'' The defendant then asked: ‘‘What do you think I'll get? Ten, twenty years?''

         The state charged the defendant with one count of murder in violation of § 53a-54a (a) and one count of assault of an elderly person in the third degree in violation of § 53a-61a (a) (1). The defendant pleaded not guilty to these charges, elected a jury trial, and was found competent to stand trial.

         At trial, the defense introduced the testimony of Alec Buchanan, a forensic psychiatrist, who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant while he was awaiting trial. Buchanan explained that the defendant told him that he began to use cocaine in 2008, developed an interest in Satanism shortly thereafter, and believed Satan took over his body to perpetrate the crimes against his parents. Buchanan also acknowledged that the onset of the defendant's symptoms coincided with his cocaine dependence and that the symptoms resolved when he no longer had access to cocaine.

         Following Buchanan's testimony, defense counsel requested time to discuss with the defendant whether he would testify on his own behalf. The trial court granted that request and permitted a recess. When the trial resumed two days later, defense counsel informed the trial court, outside the presence of the jury, that the defendant was asserting his right to testify.

         The trial court then canvassed the defendant on his decision to testify. After this canvass, defense counsel requested that the defendant's testimony proceed in a narrative format. When the trial court asked why, defense counsel specified that his request was not based on rule 3.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, [2] but ‘‘on other parts of the rule[s] . . . .''[3] The state did not object to this request, provided it could object during the defendant's testimony and conduct cross-examination.

         Accordingly, the trial court proceeded to canvass the defendant a second time. This canvass focused specifically on the defendant's decision to testify in narrative form. The trial court explained to the defendant that his testimony would be in a different format than the testimony of other witnesses and that the court would instruct the jury not to speculate as to why the defendant was testifying in narrative form. The trial court then warned the defendant that his attorney might not be ‘‘effective in representing'' him during the narrative testimony. The trial court then asked the defendant if he still wished to testify in narrative form, and the defendant confirmed that he did.

         After the trial court completed this second canvass, the jury entered the courtroom. The trial court instructed the jury that the defendant would testify in a ‘‘somewhat partial narrative form . . . .'' After the defendant took the stand, defense counsel inquired about the defendant's name, age, and schooling, and then asked the defendant broadly ‘‘about [October 14, 2011] and [the] events leading up to October 14, 2011 . . . .'' The defendant then testified, in narrative form, that his drug use led to an interest in Satanism and that, on October 14, 2011, after taking drugs the evening before, he was possessed by Satan. He told the jury that Satan took his body to his parents' apartment and killed his father. The state then cross-examined the defendant. Following cross-examination, defense counsel ...

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