March 12, 2018
information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder,
felony murder, burglary in the first degree, sexual assault
in the first degree, arson in the first degree and tampering
with physical evidence, brought to the Superior Court in the
judicial district of Hartford and tried to the jury before
Kwak, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty; thereafter, the
court vacated the conviction of felony murder, and the
defendant appealed. Affirmed.
J. Krisch, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).
Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom,
on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and
David L. Zagaja, senior assistant state's attorney, for
the appellee (state).
DiPentima, C. J., and Sheldon and Prescott, Js.
defendant, Steven Robert Durdek, appeals from the judgment of
conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of murder in
violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a, felony murder
in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, burglary in
the first degree in violation of General Statutes §
53a-101 (a) (2), sexual assault in the first degree in
violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (1), arson in
the first degree in violation of General Statutes §
53a-111 (a) (1), and tampering with physical evidence in
violation of General Statutes § 53a-155 (a)
The defendant's sole claim on appeal is that the trial
court improperly restricted his cross-examination of a
state's witness by preventing him, for purposes of
impeachment, from asking the witness about misconduct that he
allegedly had committed as a juvenile. Because the defendant
failed to make an offer of proof regarding how the witness
would have responded to any question about the alleged
misconduct, we conclude that the record is inadequate to
review that claim and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of
jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The
victim resided in the third floor apartment of a
multifamily home on Park Street in Manchester. The
victim's apartment had two entrances. One was located on
the exterior of the house and could be reached by a fire
escape. That entrance opened into the apartment's living
room. The second entrance was through an interior door that
opened into a hallway near the bedroom and could be reached
by a common interior staircase. The defendant lived near the
victim, and had walked past the victim's residence on
occasion, but never previously had been on or inside the
premises or met the victim.
January 18, 2014, sometime during the early morning hours,
the defendant entered the victim's
apartment. The defendant found the victim in her
bedroom where she lay sleeping and he forced her to engage in
vaginal intercourse. He then repeatedly and fatally struck
the victim in the head with a ceramic ashtray, causing her to
suffer multiple skull fractures. After she died, the
defendant poured lighter fluid on her and ignited it in an
attempt to destroy evidence of his crimes. The fire caused
significant burns to the victim's genital region and
face, and destroyed her mattress.
thereafter, the victim's landlord, who lived in one of
the other apartments in the residence, was awoken by a smoke
detector alarm. She looked up the interior staircase and saw
smoke coming from underneath the victim's interior door.
After placing an emergency call, she entered the victim's
apartment through the exterior door, which was unlocked, but
she was forced to retreat to the exterior staircase landing
because of heavy smoke.
responders began arriving at the residence shortly after 5
a.m. After the fire was extinguished, investigators
discovered the victim's badly burned corpse on her bed.
The victim was wearing only a single sock and a long sleeve
garment that had been bunched up around her shoulders.
Between the victim's legs, investigators discovered a
partially melted plastic container that was consistent with
packaging used to hold igniter fluid for cigarette lighters.
A police dog trained to detect accelerants alerted to
evidentiary materials taken from the victim's shoulder
and groin areas, as well as the victim's bed.
police collected a number of items of evidence from the crime
scene, including a heavy ceramic ashtray, on which it later
was determined there were traces of the victim's hair and
blood, and two DNA swabs taken from the interior doorknob of
the living room door that exited onto the fire escape. During
the autopsy of the body, a biological sample was collected
from inside the victim's vaginal cavity.
defendant concedes that the DNA sample collected from the
doorknob swabs came from him. The state laboratory tested the
doorknob DNA sample and determined that it contained a
mixture of DNA from two or more individuals. After comparison
with a known DNA sample of the victim's blood collected
during the autopsy, the victim was identified as a
contributor of some of the DNA. Another contributor was
determined to be male and, after comparing the DNA profile of
that contributor with those contained in a state database of
other unidentified DNA profiles and known DNA profiles from
convicted offenders, it was found to match a known profile of
the defendant. The known DNA sample of the defendant was then
submitted to the state laboratory for additional testing and
comparison with the DNA evidence collected in the present
state laboratory determined that the doorknob DNA was
consistent with that of the defendant or another male member
of his paternal lineage. The expected frequency of
individuals other than the defendant who could have been a
contributor to the doorknob DNA was less than one in seven
billion in the African American, Caucasian and Hispanic
laboratory also identified the defendant as a contributor to
the DNA obtained from the swab of the victim's vaginal
cavity, albeit with far less statistical certainty than that
attributed to the doorknob DNA. More specifically, the DNA
that was detected on the vaginal swab was determined to
contain male DNA that consisted of a mixture of sperm-rich
cells and epithelial skin-rich cells. That DNA was determined
to be consistent with that of the defendant or another member
of his male paternal lineage. The random probability that an
individual other than the defendant (or another member of his
male paternal lineage) was a source of the DNA material
extracted from the skin rich cells was 1 in 1900 in the
Caucasian population, 1 in 1100 in the African American
population and 1 in 870 in the Hispanic population. The
random probability that an individual other than the
defendant (or another member of his male paternal lineage)
was a source of the DNA material extracted from the sperm
rich cells was 1 in 8 in the Caucasian population, 1 in 3 in
the African American population, and 1 in 10 in the Hispanic
result of having obtained the defendant's name in
connection with the DNA evidence collected, the police began
an investigation of the defendant to determine whether he had
any connection to the victim, her family or the location of
the murder. No connections were found. The police later
obtained a warrant to search the defendant's Facebook
records. Those records included a message that the defendant
sent at 4:26 on the morning of the murder to a close friend,
John Paul Torres, stating, ‘‘[y]o, we need to
talk, asap.'' The police also interviewed Torres.
Although he provided no useful information during the initial
interview, he contacted the police at a later date and
disclosed that the defendant had confessed to him that he had
killed the victim and set her on fire.
defendant was arrested and charged by information with
murder, felony murder, burglary in the first degree, sexual
assault in the first degree, arson in the first degree and
tampering with physical evidence. He was tried before a jury,
which returned a guilty verdict on all counts. See footnote 1
of this opinion. This appeal followed.
defendant's sole claim on appeal is that the trial court
improperly restricted his cross-examination of Torres by
barring the defendant from questioning Torres for impeachment
purposes about misconduct that Torres allegedly committed as
a juvenile. Although, at its core, the defendant's claim
is evidentiary in nature, he also asserts a consequent
constitutional violation. Specifically, he argues first that
the court abused its discretion by precluding inquiry into
Torres' juvenile misconduct on the ground that the
evidence was cumulative of his adult convictions of larceny
and burglary. He next asserts that the court's improper
ruling amounted to an impermissible limitation on his right
to confront witnesses as guaranteed by the sixth amendment to
the United States constitution, which right necessarily
includes an opportunity to expose a witness' motive,
interest, bias, or prejudice, and to test the witness'
veracity and credibility. See State v. Barnes,
232 Conn. 740, 746, 657 A.2d 611 (1995); see also State
v. Holley, 327 Conn. 576, 593-94, 175 A.3d 514
(2018) (linking confrontation clause of sixth amendment to
defendant's right to present defense); State v.
Leconte, 320 Conn. 500, 510, 131 A.3d 1132 (2016)
(same). The state argues that the defendant's
constitutional claim is unpreserved, but that, regardless of
whether the defendant's claim is evidentiary in nature or
of constitutional magnitude and therefore amenable to review
under State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233,
239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), the record is inadequate to
review the claim. More particularly, the state argues that
because the defendant never made an offer of proof regarding
how Torres would have responded if the defendant had been
permitted to question him regarding his alleged misconduct as
a juvenile, this court is left to speculate whether the
court's ruling excluded potentially admissible
impeachment evidence that harmed the defendant. We agree that
the record is inadequate to review the defendant's claim.
following additional facts are relevant to our discussion.
Prior to the commencement of evidence, the court,
Kwak, J., authorized the disclosure of
Torres' subpoenaed juvenile arrest records pursuant to
General Statutes § 46b-124 (e), and copies were provided
to the defendant and the state. The parties were ordered by
the court not to disseminate further any information in the
juvenile records without the approval of the court.
Immediately before Torres was called to testify for the
state, the court inquired of the defendant whether he
intended to offer any information from Torres' juvenile
records. The following colloquy ensued:
‘‘[Defense Counsel]: Basically, Your Honor, it
wasn't so much for the record as for the acts themselves
that I wanted to question.
‘‘The Court: Which acts?
‘‘[Defense Counsel]: The act of breaking into his
father's house in ...