United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT JAMES STEPHENSON'S MOTION
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
Vernon Horn spent more than 17 years in prison following a
jury trial and his conviction in Connecticut state court on
charges stemming from a robbery and murder at a convenience
store in 1999. After an intensive post-conviction
investigation exposed exculpatory evidence, a Connecticut
state court vacated his convictions last year. Horn in turn
has filed this federal civil rights lawsuit against the City
of New Haven and various law enforcement officials. He
alleges that they all took actions that led to his wrongful
conviction and imprisonment.
before me is a motion to dismiss by one of the
defendants-James Stephenson- who testified as a ballistics
expert at Horn's criminal trial. Horn alleges that
Stephenson violated his constitutional right to due process
under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when he
failed to disclose two reports that related to his
examination of the evidence. For the reasons stated below, I
conclude that Horn has alleged a plausible Brady
claim against Stephenson and that Stephenson is not entitled
at the present time and on the present record to a grant of
absolute or qualified immunity from Horn's claim.
Accordingly, I will deny Stephenson's motion to
following facts are set forth as alleged in the complaint. In
the early morning hours of January 24, 1999, three armed men
robbed a convenience store in New Haven, Connecticut. Doc. #1
at 8-9 (¶¶ 41-50). One of the robbers shot and
killed a store customer, and the store's co-owner was
also shot but survived. Id. at 7-8 (¶¶
complaint goes on to detail how three New Haven detectives
wrongly focused their investigation on Horn as a suspect and
how they induced witnesses to wrongly implicate Horn as a
participant in the crime while also concealing exculpatory
evidence. The complaint additionally names Stephenson as a
defendant, alleging that he was a firearms examiner employed
by the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory.
Id. at 3 (¶ 12). Because only Stephenson has
filed a motion to dismiss, I will focus my discussion on
facts that relate to Horn's claim against Stephenson.
Connecticut State Police Laboratory's primary function is
to examine physical evidence to determine if a crime was
committed or was connected to a particular person.
Id. at 28 (¶ 158). Soon after the robbery, the
New Haven police sent shell casings and bullet fragments from
the crime scene to the laboratory where Stephenson examined
them and produced a report on February 4, 1999. Id.
at 28 (¶ 159); see also Doc. #40-3. This
initial report stated that the bullets and fragments were
consistent with the use of a nine millimeter firearm and then
listed seriatim the names of eight different companies,
stating that the bullets “may have been fired but not
limited to” a firearm manufactured by one of these
companies. Id. at 28 (¶ 160); Doc. #40-3 at 3
(¶ 14). This non-exhaustive list of possible company
manufacturers did not include Beretta, notwithstanding the
fact that the prosecution's key cooperating witness-Steve
Brown-would eventually tell the police and then allegedly
falsely testify at trial that Horn used a Beretta to shoot
his victims during the robbery. Doc. #1 at 27-28
(¶¶ 155, 160).
initial report was disclosed to the defense. Id. at
28 (¶ 161). But it was based in part on a more detailed
General Rifling Characteristics report (GRC report) that
Stephenson generated and failed to give to the prosecution or
the defense. Id. at 28-29 (¶¶ 161-164);
Doc. #40-5. The GRC report contained the same list of
possible manufacturers as Stephenson's initial report and
also reflected a margin of error with respect to the rifling
characteristics of 2. Doc. #1 at 28 (¶ 163); Doc.
#40-5 at 3.
to the complaint, the prosecutor realized about a year later
as he was preparing for trial in early 2000 that he had a
problem: “His star witness said the murder weapon was a
Beretta. But his forensic examiner's report did not list
a Beretta as even as possible murder weapon.”
Id. at 29 (¶ 165). So the prosecutor called
Stephenson “shortly before the start of jury selection,
” and he asked “whether it was possible the
murder weapon could have been a Beretta.” Id.
at 29 (¶ 166).
this conversation, Stephenson generated a new GRC report on
February 15, 2000, by “manipulating the report to
increase the margin of error to 4.” Ibid.
(¶ 167); Doc. #40-6. With this larger margin of error,
three models of 9mm firearms manufactured by Beretta were now
added to the list as a potential match for the shell casings
and bullet fragments from the crime scene. Doc. #1 at 29
(¶ 168); Doc. #40-6 at 2.
to the complaint, Stephenson “manipulated his findings
by changing the margin of error, ” and “[t]his
manipulation allowed the report to include a make of murder
weapon not supported by his findings, and thereby made those
findings fit the testimony of the State's key
witness.” Id. at 30 (¶ 171). Moreover, as
with the first GRC report, Stephenson did not give the second
GRC report to the prosecution, and the report was not
disclosed to the defense before trial. Ibid. (¶
alleges that Stephenson eventually testified at trial that,
“based upon ‘new information' he got
from” the prosecutor, “he had concluded that the
murder weapon could have been a Beretta.”
Ibid. (¶ 170). The defense did not know how or
why Stephenson had changed his conclusion, because the
defense had not received the two GRC reports. Ibid.
(¶ 172). Moreover, Stephenson falsely testified that he
had not created any new reports when he got the new
information from the prosecutor. Ibid. (¶ 173).
claimed all throughout that he was innocent but was convicted
at trial and sentenced to a term of 70 years in prison.
Id. at 33-34 (¶¶ 184-85). Not until
February 2018 did Horn learn of the two non-disclosed GRC
reports when they were produced in response to a subpoena.
Id. at 30 (¶ 175). Following an intensive
re-investigation of the case by Horn's counsel, his
convictions were vacated in April 2018 after he had served
more than 17 years in prison. Id. at 2 (¶¶
3-4), 42-42 (¶¶ 235-37).
lawsuit, Horn alleges that Stephenson failed to disclose the
two GRC reports and that these reports were materially
exculpatory and withheld by Stephenson in violation of
Horn's constitutional due process rights under Brady
v. Maryland. Stephenson has responded by moving to
dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). Stephenson argues that Horn has ...