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Meletrich v. Commissioner of Correction

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 6, 2019

ANGEL MELETRICH
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued February 20, 2019

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland and tried to the court, Fuger, J.; judgment denying the petition; thereafter, the court denied the petition for certification to appeal, and the petitioner appealed to the Appellate Court, Lavine, Elgo and Beach, Js., which dismissed the appeal, and the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Matthew C. Eagan, assigned counsel, with whom was Emily Graner Sexton, assigned counsel, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Melissa Patterson, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Brian Preleski, state's attorney, Jo Anne Sulik, supervisory assistant state's attorney, and Lisa Maria Proscino, former special deputy assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The principal issue in this appeal is whether the petitioner, Angel Meletrich, has demonstrated that his criminal trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to present the testimony of a second alibi witness to support his defense. The petitioner appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court dismissing his appeal from the judgment of the habeas court, which denied his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner claims that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the habeas court acted within its discretion in denying certification to appeal because he established that his counsel had performed deficiently by failing to call a second alibi witness and, further, that had that witness testified, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the petitioner's criminal trial would have been different. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         The Appellate Court's decision in Meletrich v. Commissioner of Correction, 178 Conn.App. 266, 174 A.3d 824 (2017), sets forth the relevant facts and procedural history of the petitioner's underlying criminal case. ‘‘[T]he petitioner was charged with one count of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (4), one count of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-134, one count of larceny in the first degree in violation of [General Statutes (Rev. to 2007)] § 53a-122 (a) (2), and one count of conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree in violation of . . . § 53a-48 and [General Statutes (Rev. to 2007) § 53a-122]. The petitioner, represented by Attorney Claud Chong, proceeded to a jury trial. The jury returned [a verdict] of guilty on all counts, finding the petitioner guilty [on the counts alleging robbery in the first degree and larceny in the first degree under a] theory of vicarious liability.'' Id., 268.

         ‘‘On Wednesday, November 21, 2007, the day before Thanksgiving, the McDonald's restaurant near the New Brite Plaza area of New Britain had been open for business. . . .

         ‘‘Shortly before midnight, when both the inside of the restaurant and the drive-through window stopped transacting business, the employees then on site prepared to close the restaurant. Among those employees were Assistant Manager Angel Echevarria and Bethza Meletrich. Echevarria's responsibilities at closing included collecting the eight cash register drawers in a safe located in a small office in the back of the restaurant. . . . The cash proceeds from sales [were] then secured inside the back office safe.

         ‘‘Although it was normally Echevarria's responsibility to lock the two outside doors, on the evening of November 21, 2007, he was training another manager to count the money in the registers and [Echevarria] asked Bethza Meletrich to lock the two outside doors. Although Bethza Meletrich initially locked both doors . . . she returned [and unlocked them]. One of the restaurant's surveillance cameras shows Bethza Meletrich on her cell phone as she walked past the registers to the side door. Shortly thereafter, Bethza Meletrich walked past the registers again, and then three men, later described by Echevarria as being light skinned and of normal height and average size, who were dressed in dark hooded sweatshirts with the hoods pulled over their heads, and whose faces were concealed by dark ski masks, entered the McDonald's restaurant through the side door and made their way to the back office.

         ‘‘Two of the men brandished handguns, one chrome with a wooden handle and the other black. One of the men called Echevarria by his nickname, Sidio, a name either uncommon or unique to Echevarria, but known to employees of the McDonald's, including Bethza Meletrich. After one of the men asked Echevarria where the money was located, he told them in the office safe. One of the robbers stacked either seven or eight of the register drawers and carried the stack . . . out of the restaurant. Echevarria called 911 after the three men exited the restaurant and then went to the side door and observed a car driving away. Three of the surveillance cameras in the restaurant captured footage of the robbery.

         ‘‘The police responded to the restaurant and began their investigation, which included interviewing all employees. Although Bethza Meletrich initially denied any involvement, she later gave a statement to New Britain police officers admitting her involvement in the robbery. In her statement, dated November 26, 2007, Bethza Meletrich indicated that she met Adam [Marcano] and the petitioner, [1] whose nickname was Rome or Romeo, before she went to work.[2] They asked her to leave the door open at closing time so that they could rob the restaurant. According to Bethza Meletrich, she was first offered money for her cooperation, which she declined, and then her two cousins threatened her [and] her girlfriend. Bethza Meletrich informed the police that the petitioner was armed with a silver gun that had a brown handle, which he displayed to her while it was tucked into his waistband. The petitioner and Adam Marcano, accompanied by a third person unknown to Bethza Meletrich, entered the restaurant shortly before midnight through the side door she had left unlocked.

         ‘‘Also on November 26, 2007, the police executed a search warrant for one of the apartments in, as well as the basement of, 20 Acorn Street, New Britain, a multifamily dwelling approximately six blocks, or less than one mile, from the [McDonald's] restaurant that was robbed. The petitioner was at the apartment when the police executed the search warrant. Although [Adam] Marcano [and his brother, Anthony Marcano] were not present at that time, the police found items belonging to both [of them] in the apartment. The police investigation determined that the petitioner and both Marcano brothers lived at 20 Acorn Street on the first floor.

         ‘‘The police also found three black hooded sweatshirts in the apartment. After gaining access to the basement from the apartment, the police searched the basement and found two money deposit bags, one of which contained several rolls of coins and loose quarters; a plastic bag containing three black ski masks, one pair of black fleece gloves and one pair of brown knit gloves; and three cash register drawers, one of which contained a McDonald's coupon. Subsequently, in January, 2008, the police received a phone call from the landlord of 20 Acorn Street apprising the police that other items had been found concealed under a subfloor of the basement. The police returned to 20 Acorn Street and seized five additional cash register drawers, one of which had a McDonald's sticker on it, that had been concealed under the subfloor.

         ‘‘Forensic evidence recovered included [fingerprints] and palm prints from the plastic bag that contained the masks and gloves, as well as DNA from two of the ski masks. Three of the fingerprints-the right index, the right thumb, and the left thumb-were identified as belonging to Anthony [Marcano]. A DNA sample obtained from the petitioner allowed a comparison to [be] made with DNA from two of the masks. One mask interior had DNA from at least three individuals; the petitioner was determined to be a contributor to that DNA profile. . . . A DNA sample from another mask's exterior had DNA from at least four individuals; the petitioner was determined to be a contributor to that DNA profile. . . .

         ‘‘The state contended that the petitioner was guilty of the robbery and larceny in the first degree charges either as a principal offender or as an accessory to another participant in the crime. Additionally, the court instructed the jury on the robbery and larceny in the first degree charges as to the theory of vicarious liability. Thus, if the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the state had proven all elements of the conspiracy to commit robbery and larceny in the first degree charges, but that the state had not proven that the petitioner was a principal or accessory as [to] the robbery and larceny charges in counts one and three, then the jury could consider whether the petitioner was criminally liable for the criminal acts of the other [coconspirators] under vicarious liability. The jury was charged accordingly.

         ‘‘The jury returned [a] guilty [verdict] on all counts. Specifically, the jury found the petitioner guilty of both the robbery and larceny in the first degree charges as a [coconspirator] under the theory of vicarious liability.'' (Footnotes added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 268-72. The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and imposed a total effective sentence of twenty-three years of incarceration, followed by five years of special parole. As a self-represented party, the petitioner appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, but subsequently withdrew that appeal following the appointment and advice of appellate counsel.

         Thereafter, the petitioner, as a self-represented party, filed a six count petition for a writ of habeas corpus. After being assigned counsel, the petitioner filed an amended seven count petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming, inter alia, that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to present the testimony of a second alibi witness, his aunt, Guillermina Meletrich.[3] Following a three day trial, the habeas court denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Thereafter, the habeas court denied the ...


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