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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 5, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
BILLY RAY JONES

          Argued November 28, 2018

         Procedural History

         Two part information charging the defendant, in the first part, with the crimes of murder and carrying a pistol without a permit, and, in the second part, with criminal possession of a firearm, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the jury before Kavanewsky, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Mark Rademacher, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Michael A. DeJoseph, Jr., senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and Eveleigh, Js.

          OPINION

          ALVORD, J.

         The defendant, Billy Ray ‘‘BJ'' Jones, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a), carrying a pistol without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35 (a), and criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217 (a). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury by failing to provide (1) a special credibility instruction and (2) a specific instruction on the dangers of eyewitness identification. We disagree, and accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On June 21, 2010, the defendant was outside of the Charles F. Greene Homes housing complex (Greene Homes), a federally funded housing project located in Bridgeport. The victim, Michael ‘‘Booman'' Williams, and several other people, including children, were in the playground area of the Greene Homes. Just before 11 p.m., the defendant approached the victim from behind while in the playground area and shot at the victim at least twice, killing him.[1]

         Martin Vincze, a Bridgeport police officer, responded to a 911 call that had reported the shooting. When Officer Vincze arrived at the Greene Homes, he found the victim lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head. Although there were twenty to thirty people at the scene, only one person was willing to speak to Officer Vinzce.[2] James Kennedy, a Bridgeport police detective, recovered a nine millimeter spent cartridge casing from the playground area.

         On June 22, 2010, the following day, the defendant was with Larry Shannon watching television at the Marina Village housing project in Bridgeport. A news story about the shooting came onto the television, at which point the defendant confessed to Shannon. The defendant, while holding a nine millimeter Ruger handgun, [3] told Shannon that he had walked up to the victim, said ‘‘what's poppin' now?, '' then fired his gun.

         On June 25, 2010, John Tenn, a Bridgeport police detective, questioned the defendant about the victim's death. The defendant told Detective Tenn that he did not know the victim and had never heard the name ‘‘Booman.'' In addition, the defendant stated that he was with Benjamin Beau at the Washington Village housing complex in Norwalk on the night of June 21, 2010. Later that same day, however, Detective Tenn questioned Chanel Lawson, the mother of the defendant's son, who lived in the Greene Homes. Lawson told Detective Tenn that the defendant knew the victim. A few weeks later, Beau was questioned by Detective Tenn and denied being with the defendant on the night of June 21, 2010.[4]

         In September, 2012, over two years later, police officers approached Angela Teele while she was at work and asked to speak to her about the defendant.[5] Teele had lived in the Greene Homes in June, 2010, and had witnessed the defendant shoot the victim. Specifically, Teele recalled seeing the defendant in the vicinity of building three of the Greene Homes between 10 and 11 p.m. on the night of June 21, 2010.[6] She observed that the defendant was wearing a black hoodie and blue shorts. Teele also recalled seeing the victim play with two children in the playground area of the Greene Homes, which was located at the side of building three. Teele briefly lost sight of the defendant as he walked around one of the buildings, then watched him throw on his hood as he went into the playground area. Once the defendant went into the playground area, Teele witnessed the defendant approach the victim, whose back was turned, and shoot the victim in the head.[7]Teele observed that the defendant was about two or three feet away from the victim when he shot the victim with a pistol. Teele saw the defendant run out of the playground area toward the back of building three after the shooting.

         In February, 2013, Shannon contacted the police. Although Shannon previously had not wanted to talk to the police, [8] he was arrested and incarcerated on an unrelated felony charge and sought to give information to police in the hope of receiving favorable treatment in his case. In addition to telling the police about the defendant's confession, Shannon also explained that he saw the defendant on the night of June 21, 2010. Shannon was at the Greene Homes and walked to Junco's, a nearby market, to get food. After eating at Junco's, Shannon walked back toward building four of the Greene Homes. During his walk back, Shannon saw the defendant in the area between buildings two and three. He observed that the defendant was wearing blue jeans and a hoodie, with the hood up on his head, and was walking toward the back of building three. After seeing the defendant, Shannon continued to walk toward building four, and shortly thereafter heard two or three gunshots. Shannon tried to run because he did not know where the gunshots were coming from, but he had difficulty running due to a recent surgery, and ended up falling to the ground. Shannon got up, walked around the corner of building four, and saw the victim slumped over in the playground area.

         In June, 2015, the defendant was arrested, and he was subsequently charged with murder, carrying a pistol without a permit, and criminal possession of a firearm. A jury trial followed and the defendant was found guilty of all charges. The court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and imposed a total effective sentence of fifty years of imprisonment. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant first claims that the trial court erred when it failed to provide a special credibility instruction regarding Shannon's testimony. Specifically, the defendant argues that the jailhouse informant instruction, recognized in State v. Patterson, 276 Conn. 452, 886 A.2d 777 (2005), should extend to cases like his, where a witness such as Shannon is incarcerated at the time he provides information to the police for the purposes of getting out of jail and receiving a favorable disposition of his pending criminal charges.[9] We disagree.

         The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this claim. At trial, Shannon was questioned at length about the benefits he received as a result of talking to police and testifying at the defendant's trial. Shannon explained that he decided to talk to the police in February, 2013, because he had been arrested on an unrelated felony charge and was being held at the Bridgeport Correctional Center. Shannon testified that, in consideration for talking to the police about the defendant's confession and what he had seen on the night of June 21, 2010, he was released from the Bridgeport Correctional Center without having to make a bond payment. In addition, Shannon stated that he received a favorable sentence on his felony charge.[10]

         On January 23, 2017, the defendant submitted a written request to charge. He requested a special credibility instruction with respect to Shannon's testimony.[11] The defendant conceded that there was no controlling legal authority requiring such an instruction, but nonetheless argued, as he does on appeal, that the jailhouse informant exception recognized in Patterson should extend to cases such as his. Specifically, he argued that ‘‘Larry [Shannon's testimony] is no less suspect than the testimony of an accomplice or jailhouse snitch, given the unique circumstances of how and when it was disclosed, and the potential motivations for the witness to provide information he believes will be helpful to the state regardless of whether that information is accurate or based on personal knowledge.''

         The trial court declined to provide the jury with the special credibility instruction. Rather, in its final charge to the jury, the court provided the jury with a general witness credibility instruction. The court instructed in relevant part: ‘‘You should consider their appearance, conduct and demeanor while testifying and in court, and any interest, bias, prejudice or sympathy which a witness may apparently have for or against the state, or the accused or in the outcome of the trial. . . .''

         We turn to the legal principles that guide our review of the defendant's claim. ‘‘It is a well established principle that a defendant is entitled to have the jury correctly and adequately instructed on the pertinent principles of substantive law. . . . The primary purpose of the charge to the jury is to assist [it] in applying the law correctly to the facts which [it] find[s] to be established. . . . [T]he test of a court's charge is not whether it is as accurate upon legal principles as the opinions of a court of last resort but whether it fairly presents the case to the jury in such a way that injustice is not done to either party under the established rules of law. . . . As long as [the instructions] are correct in law, adapted to the issues and sufficient for the guidance of the jury . . . we will not view the instructions as improper.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Salmond, 179 Conn.App. 605, 627-28, 180 A.3d 979, cert. denied, 328 Conn. 936, 183 A.3d 1175 (2018).

         ‘‘Generally, a [criminal] defendant is not entitled to an instruction singling out any of the state's witnesses and highlighting his or her possible motive for testifying falsely.'' State v. Ortiz, 252 Conn. 533, 561, 747 A.2d 487 (2000); accord State v. Colon, 272 Conn. 106, 227, 864 A.2d 666 (2004), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 848, 126 S.Ct. 102, 163 L.Ed.2d 116 (2005). Our Supreme Court has recognized three exceptions to this general rule, including the jailhouse informant exception. See State v. Diaz, 302 Conn. 93, 101-102, 25 A.3d 594 (2011).

         Our Supreme Court adopted the jailhouse informant exception in Patterson, holding that a defendant is entitled to a special credibility instruction in cases where a prison inmate ‘‘has been promised a benefit by the state in return for his or her testimony'' regarding incriminating statements made by a fellow inmate. State v. Patterson, supra, 276 Conn. 469; see also State v. Diaz, supra, 302 Conn. 102 (‘‘a jailhouse informant is a prison inmate who has testified about confessions or inculpatory statements made to him by a fellow inmate'' [emphasis added]).

         ‘‘In Diaz, our Supreme Court declined to interpret its decision in Patterson as [requiring] a special credibility instruction when an incarcerated witness has testified concerning events surrounding the crime that [he] witnessed outside of prison . . . reasoning that such an exception would swallow the rule that the trial court generally is not required to give such an instruction for the state's witnesses.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Salmond, supra, 179 Conn.App. 630.

         In the present case, the defendant concedes that Shannon was not a jailhouse informant. Although Shannon was incarcerated at the Bridgeport Correctional Center when he initiated contact with the police, he was not a fellow inmate of the defendant. Shannon did not testify as to a confession that the defendant made while they were fellow inmates. See State v.Diaz, supra, 302 Conn. 102 (‘‘Patterson has not been applied to require a special credibility instruction when an incarcerated witness has testified concerning events surrounding the crime that he or she witnessed outside of prison, as distinct from confidences that the defendant made to the witness while they were incarcerated together''). Rather, Shannon testified about events that he had witnessed and a confession that took place while both of them were socializing outside of the prison environment.

         Moreover, the defendant recognizes that requiring a special credibility instruction for Shannon's testimony would be an expansion of the exception recognized in Patterson. The defendant nonetheless argues that, although a special credibility instruction is not required under existing law, the trial court's failure to provide such an instruction was in error because Shannon's testimony was ‘‘similar to [that of] a classic jailhouse informant, '' and presented ‘‘[t]he same concerns that require . . . [a] special credibility instruction for such a witness . . . .'' Specifically, he argues that Shannon's testimony was unreliable because of ‘‘[t]he pressure of the prison environment'' and ‘‘[t]he introduction of benefits in exchange for testimony . . . [which] has an undeniable corrupting influence on the criminal process by encouraging those with little to lose to fabricate damaging testimony in order to reap the government's reward of freedom.''

         Following the appellate guidance in Diaz and Salmond, we decline to extend the jailhouse informant exception to the facts of the present case.[12] In Diaz and Salmond, the courts explained that ‘‘when the jury [is] aware of the [nonjailhouse informant] witness' involvement in the criminal justice system and their expectations that they would receive consideration in exchange for their testimony, a general credibility instruction is sufficient.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Salmond, supra, 179 Conn.App. 630; see State v. Diaz, supra, 302 Conn. 103.

         In the present case, the jury was repeatedly advised that Shannon was incarcerated at the Bridgeport Correctional Center at the time he initiated contact with the police and that, in consideration for his cooperation, he was released from jail without having to make a bond payment and later received a favorable sentence on his felony charge. Shannon testified at trial regarding his motive to talk to the police, as well as the benefits he received, on both direct examination and cross-examination. See footnote 9 of this opinion. Moreover, during closing arguments, defense counsel told the jury how Shannon's motivations and favorable treatment could be taken into consideration when determining his credibility.[13] Accordingly, we conclude that the jury was aware of Shannon's involvement in the criminal justice system and his expectation that he would receive consideration in exchange for talking to the police. Therefore, under Diaz and Salmond, a general credibility instruction is sufficient.[14]

         The court, in its charge to the jury, gave a general credibility instruction. In that instruction, the jury was told to consider ‘‘any interest, bias, prejudice or sympathy which a witness may apparently have for or against the state, or the accused or in the outcome of the trial.'' See State v. Salmond, supra, 179 Conn.App. 631. We therefore conclude ...


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