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State v. Ezequiel R. R.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 7, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
EZEQUIEL R. R.[*]

          Argued May 17, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of aggravated sexual assault of a minor and sexual assault in the fourth degree, and with two counts of the crime of sexual assault in the first degree and four counts of the crime of risk of injury to a child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, D'Addabbo, J., denied the defendant's motion to preclude certain evidence; thereafter, the matter was tried to the jury; subsequently, the court granted in part the defendant's amended motion to preclude certain evidence; thereafter, the court denied the defendant's motions for a judgment of acquittal; verdict of guilty; subsequently, the court denied the defendant's motion for a new trial, granted in part the defendant's amended motion for a judgment of acquittal, and vacated the verdict of guilty as to one count of sexual assault in the first degree and one count of risk of injury to a child; judgment of guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a minor, sexual assault in the first degree, sexual assault in the fourth degree and three counts of risk of injury to a child, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Justin T. Smith, for the appellant (defendant).

          Kathryn W. Bare, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Brian Preleski, state's attorney, and Christian M. Watson, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Elgo and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The defendant, Ezequiel R. R., appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of one count of aggravated sexual assault of a minor in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70c (a) (1), one count of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2), three counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), and one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (1) (A).[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred by (1) admitting into evidence a video recording of a forensic interview between a clinical child interview specialist and the child victim, and (2) allowing the clinical child interview specialist to render an expert opinion that appeared to be based on the facts of the case. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The victim was born on December 22, 2000, in Buffalo, New York. The victim's biological mother and biological father ended their relationship when she was two years old and the victim's mother began a relationship with the defendant shortly thereafter. During their near decadelong relationship, the defendant moved in with the victim and her mother, and the defendant and the victim's mother had two daughters together, one born in 2006 and one in 2009. Between approximately 2009 and 2012, the defendant sexually assaulted the victim in different residences that the defendant shared with the victim, the victim's mother, and the victim's two younger siblings.

         In 2009, when the assaults first began, the family was living in a two bedroom apartment in Rocky Hill. Around this time, on a few different occasions, the defendant asked the victim to play the ‘‘ah game'' with him when her mother was at work and her younger siblings were napping. On the first occasion, the victim thought the defendant was asking her to play a board game with him. Instead, the defendant led the victim to his bedroom, proceeded to pull down his pants, and lay with her on the bed. He instructed her ‘‘to open up [her] mouth and say ah and put [her] mouth on his penis, '' and then told her ‘‘that all boys and girls . . . played the game . . . .'' The victim followed the defendant's demands and stopped a couple minutes later when she no longer wanted to do it. The defendant made the victim do this on multiple occasions.

         In September, 2010, the family moved into another two bedroom apartment in Rocky Hill. At this new apartment, the defendant routinely climbed into the victim's bed with her in the morning and proceeded to inappropriately touch her.[2] He would lie behind the victim with her back to his chest and would touch her breasts and vagina under her clothes with his hand. During this time, the victim could feel the defendant's erect penis against her back as he lay behind her.

         On a different occasion, while the victim's mother was in the shower and the victim was eating lunch in the kitchen of the apartment, the defendant threw the victim over his shoulder and carried her into his bedroom. Against her will, he ‘‘pinned [her] onto the bed, '' pulled down her pants, and proceeded to lick her vagina. The victim tried to use her hands to push him away, but she was not strong enough to do so. After a couple of minutes, the defendant stopped holding her down; the victim pulled her pants up and yelled at the defendant. The defendant threatened the victim by telling her that she was ‘‘going to go out there and act happy or else he was going to drown [her] and [her] mom in a river.'' The victim did not report this incident to anyone at the time because she was ‘‘scared that he would hurt [her] and [her] mom.''

         The defendant and the victim's mother eventually ended their relationship. The victim, her mother, and her two siblings moved into an apartment in Hartford without the defendant, and in June, 2014, the then thirteen year old victim disclosed to her mother some of the things that the defendant had done to her beginning when she was eight or nine years old.

         The next day, on June 27, 2014, the victim's mother brought her to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford. The victim spoke with the doctors and told them about the defendant's sexual interactions with her. At the conclusion of that consultation, the emergency room doctor referred her to the Greater Hartford Children's Advocacy Center at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

         On July 9, 2014, the victim was interviewed at the Greater Hartford Children's Advocacy Center by Lynd-sey Craft, a clinical child interview specialist. This interview was recorded on video and was observed by a doctor, two medical residents, a Department of Children and Families (department) worker, and a detective from the Rocky Hill Police Department, who all observed from behind a one-way mirror.[3] The victim spoke with Craft and described her physical encounters with the defendant. On the basis of the victim's disclosures during her interview, Detective Frank Dannahey of the Rocky Hill Police Department prepared an arrest warrant for the defendant, and he was arrested. At trial, the victim testified about the assaults the defendant subjected her to. In addition, the jury heard testimony from Craft about her work with the Greater Hartford Children's Advocacy Center and about her interview with the victim. The video of the interview was also played for the jury. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. The trial court sentenced him to a total effective sentence of twenty-five years incarceration, followed by ten years of special parole. This timely appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant first claims that the court erred by admitting into evidence, pursuant to the medical diagnosis or treatment exception to the hearsay rule, the video recording of the forensic interview between Craft and the victim. We disagree.

         The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to this claim. On March 11, 2016, the defendant filed a motion in limine to preclude the video recording of the victim's forensic interview with Craft from being admitted into evidence, arguing that the video recording contains hearsay, and that ‘‘no hearsay exception applies, including the medical treatment exception.'' A motion hearing was held on three separate days in April, 2016, prior to the commencement of the trial, and the court heard testimonial evidence from Craft and Nancy Eiswirth, the defendant's expert witness, who opined about the purposes of Craft's interview with the victim.

         At the hearing, Craft testified about her educational background in social work and her job as a clinical child interview specialist for the Greater Hartford Children's Advocacy Center. She testified that when the victim and her mother first arrived at the center, the victim's mother was required to sign Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), 42 U.S.C. § 1320d et seq., compliant release forms because the interview was going to be made part of the victim's medical record. After these administrative tasks were completed, Craft indicated that she met with the victim alone in one of the adolescent interview rooms to ...


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