October 12, 2018
information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder
and manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, brought
to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford
and tried to the jury before Crawford, J.; verdict
and judgment of guilty of manslaughter in the first degree
with a firearm, from which the defendant appealed.
Osedach, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant
A. Chiarenza, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on
the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and
Vicki Melchiorre, supervisory assistant state's attorney,
for the appellee (state).
Sheldon, Keller and Moll, Js.
defendant, Angela C. Grasso, appeals from the judgment of
conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of manslaughter
in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General
Statutes § 53a-55a. The defendant claims that (1) the state
failed to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had
acted in self-defense and (2) the trial court violated her
rights to due process and to the effective assistance of
counsel by denying the jury's request to rehear the
closing arguments of the prosecutor and defense counsel at
trial. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
basis of the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably
could have found the following facts. One evening in
mid-March, 2014, the defendant stopped into a bar in
Hartford, where she encountered an acquaintance, the victim,
Jose Mendez. She had not spoken with the victim in many
years. The defendant and the victim made eye contact,
recognized one another, and engaged in light conversation.
The victim flirted with the defendant, and he asked her for
her telephone number. The defendant declined to give her
number to the victim and stated to him that she was not
interested in dating anyone. Then, the defendant and the
victim parted ways.
time of the events underlying this appeal, the defendant had
been employed for four years as a bail bondsperson by a bail
bonds company. The day after the defendant spoke with the
victim at the bar in Hartford, the defendant was in front of
a Hartford courthouse distributing business cards for the
bail bonds company by which she was employed, when she
encountered the victim as he was exiting the courthouse. The
victim then told the defendant that he might be in need of
her professional services, and the defendant gave him her
telephone number. Soon thereafter, the defendant and the
victim spoke on the telephone and exchanged text messages.
Before long, the victim expressed his romantic interest in
the defendant, telling her that he had always had
‘‘a crush'' on her and that she was
‘‘the woman of [his] dreams.'' On both
days of the weekend that followed, the defendant drove to
Hartford and spent time alone with the victim.
the defendant and the victim saw each other often. The victim
expressed his desire to be in a romantic relationship with
the defendant. In the defendant's words, the victim told
her ‘‘all of the things that a girl would want to
hear . . . .'' This included his desire to help
support her financially, to live with her, and to marry her.
After the first week, their relationship became sexual in
nature. The defendant permitted the victim to spend the night
with her at her home, but only after her two young children
had fallen asleep.
one week after the relationship began, the victim, who was
unemployed, told the defendant that his automobile needed to
be repaired. The defendant paid for a rental automobile for
the victim to use from March 28 through March 31, 2014. After
the victim returned the rented automobile, however, his
automobile needed additional repairs. The defendant then paid
for a second rental automobile for the victim to use from
April 2 through April 9, 2014.
defendant told the victim that she was not rich and could
barely afford to pay her rent. She said that she was
‘‘obsessed'' with money because, only a
few months before she began her relationship with the victim,
she was having difficulty obtaining food for herself and her
children. Nevertheless, the defendant spent in excess of $500
on automobile rentals for the victim's benefit. In that
same time frame, moreover, the defendant gave the victim
$1000 after he told her that he needed money with which to
pay his bills, rent, and car repair expenses.
the morning of April 8, 2014, while repairs were being made
to a tire on the defendant's automobile, the victim and
the defendant visited the victim's sister at her home.
Prior to the visit, the victim told the defendant that it
would be nice if she befriended his sister. When the visit
was over, however, the victim accused the defendant of
flirting with his sister and wanting to have sexual relations
with her, which the defendant vehemently denied. As the
victim drove the defendant from his sister's residence to
the repair facility to retrieve her automobile, he became
violently angry. He called the defendant a
‘‘stupid bitch, '' threatened her life if
she ever touched his sister, and spat in her face. While he
was driving on the highway, he tossed her cell phone out of
the moving automobile. Soon after she retrieved her
automobile, the defendant went to a store and obtained
victim and the defendant spoke again later that day. The
victim apologized to the defendant and explained that a prior
girlfriend of his had engaged in a sexual relationship with
his sister. The defendant visited the victim later that day.
In text messages exchanged between the defendant and the
victim during the evening hours of April 8, 2014, into the
early morning hours of April 9, 2014, both the defendant and
the victim questioned their relationship. The victim
suggested that the defendant find someone who could
‘‘buy and give [her] the world'' and
think about whether she really wanted to be with him. The
defendant expressed her frustration with the way the victim
was treating her. She told him that she was upset with him
and that her hands were still shaking as a result of his
behavior earlier that day. She said that, despite the fact
that the victim claimed to love her, he did not really know
her and that he was causing her pain. In her text messages to
the victim late in the evening on April 8, 2014, the
defendant suggested that the victim was welcome to come over
to her house. He did not do so.
after 7 a.m. on April 9, 2014, the victim sent the defendant
a text message in which he wished her a good morning. When
the defendant did not reply immediately, the victim accused
her of being with another man, told her to enjoy her life,
and told her that he would leave the rental automobile in his
aunt's driveway. The defendant replied that she had not
been with anyone and did not reply immediately to his text
message because she was taking a shower. The defendant
remarked that the victim was
‘‘paranoid.'' The defendant drove her son
to school and ran an errand for work. In numerous telephone
calls and text messages throughout the day, the disagreement
between the defendant and the victim continued to escalate.
series of text messages sent by the victim to the defendant
at or about 8:55 a.m., he called the defendant a
‘‘nasty bitch . . . .'' He threatened to
crash the automobile she had rented for him and mockingly
observed that his doing so would ruin her credit. The
defendant called the victim a ‘‘little
boy'' and warned him not to threaten
She stated that although she had spent $1500 on him, she had
learned his ‘‘[true] colors.''
thereafter, the victim sent the defendant another threatening
text message, this time suggesting that he was going to
disclose sensitive information that would hurt the company
for which she worked, thereby jeopardizing her employer, her
continued employment, or both. He warned her not to turn to
the police for help. In reply, the defendant told him to return
the rented automobile.
victim once again accused the defendant of cheating on him.
He suggested that he had contracted a sexually transmitted
disease from her and that they should both be tested. The
victim once more suggested that he would retaliate against
her by exposing negative information that she had shared with
him about the bail bonds company for which she
worked. In a text message, the defendant attempted
to defuse the victim's anger. She replied that he was not
thinking clearly, she had never cheated on him, and they
should act like adults. The defendant implored the victim to
permit her to continue to earn a living.
messages that followed, the victim suggested that he was
about to disclose damaging information about her employer. He
swore that he would ‘‘pull up [in] front of the
court house and put u down to all the bondsman out there,
'' adding, ‘‘try me I have the pictures
and texts to back it up . . . .'' When the defendant
asked what she had done to the victim, he replied by
demanding an additional $600 from her.
the victim's repeated threats to reveal detrimental
information about the bail bonds company, the defendant did
not ask the victim what information he was threatening to
reveal or otherwise reflect confusion with respect to his
threat. Instead, the defendant referred to the victim as a
‘‘snitch, '' and reminded him that she
already had given him both money and a place to
stay. The victim assured her that she would not
leave him stranded without money or an automobile. After the
defendant and the victim spoke on the telephone, the victim
sent the defendant yet another text message in which he
threatened to jeopardize her employment, warning her:
‘‘U hang up on me one more time kiss ur job by .
. . .'' He reiterated his demand for more money,
telling her that he needed $600 by noon that day and that he
was tired of letting her think that she could take advantage
the morning of April 9, 2014, the defendant communicated by
text messaging with Jose Cotto. Cotto was her former
boyfriend and the father of one of her two children. In a
text message that the defendant sent to Cotto at 10:19 a.m.,
after Cotto discussed his desire to provide for his children,
she revealed that she was in a predicament that jeopardized
her freedom and her ability to parent her children. She
wrote: ‘‘I will be dead or in jail soon so my dad
will hav[e] them [t]hanks . . . .'' Cotto replied,
‘‘Why?????, '' but the defendant did not
text message sent by the victim to the defendant at 11:22
a.m. that same day, he questioned whether the defendant had
called the police, and she replied that she had not done so.
The victim, alluding to his statements to reveal information
detrimental to the defendant, asked her ‘‘how
[it's] gonna be'' and stated that he was on his
way to his attorney's office. By 1:30 p.m., however, the
defendant and the victim had agreed to speak with one another
in person later that afternoon.
the defendant and the victim saw one another during the
afternoon of April 9, 2014, the defendant contacted and
visited with Maria Quinonez. Although they had not spoken for
many years, the defendant and Quinonez knew one another
because the defendant and Quinonez' brother had a
daughter together. Quinonez also had known the victim for a
long time as well. She was a mother figure in the
victim's life and had cared for him when he was younger.
The defendant was emotional and frightened when she called
Quinonez; she told her that she needed her to intervene on
her behalf with the victim because he was threatening her.
Qui-nonez suggested that the defendant should contact the
police, but the defendant did not want to do so because she
feared that the victim would reveal information to the police
that was detrimental to the bail bonds company and in fact
could result in the company being ‘‘shut down . .
. .'' At one point during the defendant's
conversation with Quinonez, the victim called the
defendant's cell phone, and she put the call on speak-
erphone. The victim was unhappy that the defendant had
involved Quinonez in their dispute, told the defendant that
he wanted her to ‘‘get herself checked out,
'' and screamed that he was going to kill her. Before
the defendant ended the conversation by slamming the cell
phone shut, however, she replied ‘‘that she had
guns, too . . . .'' After she ended her visit with
Quinonez, the defendant went to her place of employment for a
short period of time, where she obtained her paycheck.
Meanwhile, the victim continued to demand that the defendant
meet him to give him money.
minutes before 4 p.m., the defendant arrived at a bank
located at the intersection of Sisson Avenue and Park Street
in Hartford. Although the bank was still open when she
arrived, the defendant did not transact any business there.
Instead, the defendant waited in her automobile in the
parking lot of the bank, called the victim, and told him that
she was unable to get the money he had demanded from her
because the bank was closed. At approximately 4:39 p.m., the
victim arrived at the bank in the rented automobile, and the
defendant and the victim spoke to one another through the
driver's windows of their respective automobiles. Then,
the defendant and the victim drove separately to a restaurant
that was located nearby on Park Street in Hartford. The
defendant left her automobile in the restaurant's parking
lot and got into the defendant's automobile.
had done throughout the day, the victim expressed his anger
that he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from
the defendant. He drove the defendant from the restaurant
parking lot to a medical clinic, which was located on
Coventry Street in the north end of Hartford, to be tested.
At approximately 5 p.m., they arrived at the clinic. The
defendant and the victim exited the automobile and walked
into the lobby of the clinic. There, the victim spoke with a
security guard, who informed him that the clinic was closed
for the day. The victim used a restroom at the clinic before
he and the defendant left the clinic together.
the victim left the clinic with the defendant, he drove on
the highway for a period of time. He accused the defendant of
having sexual relations with her former boyfriend, Cotto.
Inan attempt to prove the truthfulness of his accusation, he
ordered the defendant to use her cell phone to call Cotto and
to use the speakerphone function so that he could overhear
the conversation. The defendant complied with the request.
During the defendant's brief conversation with Cotto, the
victim instructed the defendant to ask Cotto if he would have
sexual relations with her. After Cotto declined the
defendant's offer and questioned why it was being made,
the victim ended the call.
p.m., the victim was driving the rental automobile on
Prospect Avenue in West Hartford. As he approached a fast
food restaurant, he stated to the defendant, who was in the
front passenger seat, that he was hungry and wanted to get
something to eat. He decreased the speedof the automobile and
momentarily took his attention away from the defendant. As he
did so, the defendant reached for her purse, which was on the
floor directly behind the passenger seat. The defendant
quickly retrieved a handgun from her open purse and shot the
victim in his right temple, incapacitating him immediately.
The defendant dropped the handgun and grabbed the steering
wheel in an attempt to control the automobile, but it crashed
into a fence. Once the automobile came to a stop, the
defendant frantically exited the vehicle. She was unable to
open the passenger side door but climbed out of the
automobile through the rear driver's side door.
defendant called 911 to report that she had shot someone but
ended the call before providing the 911 dispatcher with
additional information. The police arrived on the scene soon
thereafter. Emergency medical personnel treated the victim at
the scene of the shooting and transported him to Saint
Francis Hospital and Medical Center. The victim died from the
gunshot wound shortly after his arrival at the hospital.
the defendant was transported to West Hartford police
headquarters, she submitted to a lengthy videotaped
interview, and, in a written statement, memorialized her
version of the events surrounding the victim's death. The
defendant admitted that she had shot the victim but claimed
that she had done so because he had stated that he was going
to drive her to her home in Plainville, kill her family
members in her presence, and then kill her. Additional facts
will beset forthas necessary.
the defendant argues that the state failed to disprove beyond
a reasonable doubt that she had acted in self-defense. We
we consider whether the state satisfied its burden to
disprove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant's
claimed defense, we first must explain the theory of defense
that the defendant pursued at trial. See, e.g., State v.
Revels, 313 Conn. 762, 779, 99 A.3d 1130 (2014) (in
evaluating whether state has disproven defense beyond
reasonable doubt, reviewing court focuses only on theory of
defense advanced by defendant during trial), cert. denied,
U.S., 135 S.Ct. 1451, 191 L.Ed.2d 404 (2015); State v.
Cruz, 75 Conn.App. 500, 508-12, 816 A.2d 683 (2003)
(same), aff'd, 269 Conn. 97, 848 A.2d 445
(2004). The defendant's theory of defense is reflected in
her written request to charge, in which she asked the court
to instruct the jury that it should consider whether her
conduct was justified because she acted in defense of
our Penal Code, self-defense, as defined in [General
Statutes] § 53a-19 (a) . . . is a defense, rather than
an affirmative defense. See General Statutes § 53a-16.
Whereas an affirmative defense requires the
defendant to establish his claim by a preponderance of the
evidence, a properly raised defense places the
burden on the state to disprove the defendant's claim
beyond a reasonable doubt. See General Statutes §
53a-12. Consequently, a defendant has no burden of persuasion
for a claim of self-defense; he has only a burden of
production. That is, he merely is required to introduce
sufficient evidence to warrant presenting his claim of
self-defense to the jury. . . . Once the defendant has done
so, it becomes the state's burden to disprove the defense
beyond a reasonable doubt. General Statutes § 53a-12 (a)
. . . .'' (Citations omitted; emphasis in original;
footnotes omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)
State v. Clark, 264 Conn. 723, 730-31, 826 A.2d 128
(2003); see also State v. Reddick, 174 Conn.App.
536, 552, 166 A.3d 754, cert. denied, 327 Conn. 921, 171 A.3d
58 (2017), cert. denied, U.S., 138 S.Ct. 1027, 200 L.Ed.2d
53a-19 codifies the narrow circumstances in which a person is
justified in using deadly physical force on another person in
self-defense. Under § 53a-19 (a), ‘‘deadly
physical force may not be used unless the actor reasonably
believes that such other person is (1) using or about to use
deadly physical force, or (2) inflicting or about to inflict
great bodily harm.'' ‘‘It is well settled
that under § 53a-19 (a), a person may justifiably use
deadly physical force in self-defense only if he reasonably
believes both that (1) his attacker is using or about to use
deadly physical force against him, or is inflicting or about
to inflict great bodily harm, and (2) that deadly physical
force is necessary to repel such attack. . . . [Our Supreme
Court] repeatedly [has] indicated that the test a jury must
apply in analyzing the second requirement . . . is a
subjective-objective one. The jury must view the situation
from the perspective of the defendant. Section 53a-19 (a)
requires, however, that the defendant's belief ultimately
must be found to be reasonable.'' (Internal quotation
marks omitted.) State v. Reddick, supra, 174
Conn.App. 552. Even then, however, ‘‘a person is
not justified in using deadly physical force upon another
person if he or she knows that he or she can avoid the
necessity of using such force with complete safety (1) by
retreating . . . or (2) by surrendering possession of
property to a person asserting a claim of right thereto, or
(3) by complying with a demand that he or she abstain from
performing an act which he or she is not obliged to
perform.'' General Statutes § 53a-19 (b).
Moreover, under § 53a-19 (c), ‘‘a person is
not justified in using physical force when (1) with intent to
cause physical injury or death to another person, he provokes
the use of physical force by such other person, or (2) he is
the initial aggressor, except that his use of physical force
upon another person under such circumstances is justifiable
if he withdraws from the encounter and effectively
communicates to such other person his intent to do so, but
such other person notwithstanding continues or threatens the
use of physical force, or (3) the physical force involved was
the product of a combat by agreement not specifically
authorized by law.''
obtain a conviction, the state had to sustain its burden of
disproving beyond a reasonable doubt any of the essential
elements of self-defense involving the use of deadly physical
force or to sustain its burden of proving
beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the statutory
exceptions to self-defense codified in § 53a-19 (b) and
(c) applied. See State v. Singleton, 292
Conn. 734, 747-48, 974 A.2d 679 (2009); State v.
Corchado, 188 Conn. 653, 663-64, 453 A.2d 427 (1982).
‘‘[U]pon a valid claim of self-defense, a
defendant is entitled to proper jury instructions on the
elements of self-defense so that the jury may ascertain
whether the state has met its burden of proving beyond a
reasonable doubt that the assault was not
justified.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
State v. Clark, supra, 264 Conn. 731.
appeal, the standard for reviewing sufficiency claims in
conjunction with a justification offered by the defense is
the same standard used when examining claims of insufficiency
of the evidence. . . . In reviewing a sufficiency of the
evidence claim, we apply a two part test. First, we construe
the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the
verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so
construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the
[jury] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative
force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt . . . . This court cannot substitute its own judgment
for that of the jury if there is sufficient evidence to
support the jury's verdict. . . . Moreover, we do not ask
whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would
support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask,
instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence
that supports the jury's verdict of guilty.''
(Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)
State v. Revels, supra, 313 Conn. 778; see also
State v. Allan, 311 Conn. 1, 25, 83 A.3d 326 (2014).
As we have discussed previously in this opinion, the
evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to sustaining
the jury's verdict, must be sufficient to disprove one or
more of the essential elements of the defense or to prove a
statutory disability to rely on the defense. See, e.g.,
State v. Singleton, supra, 292 Conn. 747-48.
closing argument, defense counsel discussed in great detail
the evidence that he claimed to support the defense. Defense
counsel did not dispute that the defendant used deadly
physical force by shooting the victim. In focusing
on why the shooting occurred, defense counsel argued
that the evidence reflected that the defendant had acted
under extreme duress after the victim made viable threats
that he would kill her and members of her family. Defense
counsel argued that, under the circumstances, it was
objectively reasonable for the defendant to believe that the
killing of her or members of her family ‘‘was
going to happen . . . . It's imminent . . . .''
defendant did not testify at trial. In discussing the
evidence, defense counsel heavily relied on the videotaped
and written statements that the defendant provided to the
police in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as well as
the text messages that had been exchanged between the victim
and the defendant, several of which we have described
previously in this opinion.
relevant part, the evidence demonstrated that the defendant
told the police that, throughout the day on April 9, 2014,
the victim became increasingly angry with her. He accused her
of being unfaithful, having given him a sexually transmitted
disease, and not having provided him with money. The victim
demanded money from the defendant, threatened to crash the
automobile she had rented for him, and threatened to
jeopardize her employment by publicizing sensitive
information that she had revealed to the victim about the
bail bonds company by which she was employed. Most important
to the defense, however, was the fact that the defendant had
told the police that, throughout the day, the victim
repeatedly threatened to kill not only her, but members of
counsel also highlighted Quinonez' testimony that, on
April 9, 2014, the defendant contacted her for advice about
dealing with the threats made to the defendant by the victim.
In particular, defense counsel highlighted the fact that
Quinonez, who had a close bond with the victim, nevertheless
testified that she overheard the victim threaten to kill the
defendant. Additionally, there was evidence that the
defendant told the police that although Quinonez told the
victim that he was not going to harm the defendant ...