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State v. Watson

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 3, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JAMESHENRY WATSON

          Argued May 21, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of sexual assault in the first degree, strangulation in the second degree, assault in the third degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree and threatening in the second degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the jury before Kavanewsky, J.; thereafter, the court denied the defendant's motion to admit evidence regarding the sexual conduct of the victim; verdict of guilty of strangulation in the second degree, assault in the third degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree and threatening in the second degree; subsequently, the court denied the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal as to the charges of assault in the third degree and unlawful restraint in the first degree and rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Alice Osedach, assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Timothy F. Costello, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Marc R. Durso, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Noble, Js.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The defendant, James Henry Watson, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61 (a) (1), unlawful restraint in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-95 (a), strangulation in the second degree in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 53a-64bb (a), [1] and threatening in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-62 (a) (1). The defendant claims that the trial court (1) improperly determined whether the charges of assault in the third degree and unlawful restraint in the first degree were ‘‘upon the same incident'' as the charge of strangulation in the second degree for the purposes of § 53a-64bb (b); (2) violated § 53a-64bb (b) and his right to be free from double jeopardy when it punished him for assault in the third degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree and strangulation in the second degree; and (3) violated his right to confrontation when it restricted his cross-examination of the victim. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         On the basis of the evidence presented at trial, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On October 19, 2016, at approximately 3 p.m., the defendant and the victim were ‘‘hanging out'' and drinking beer on the front porch of an apartment building at 850 Hancock Avenue in Bridgeport wherein the defendant resided. The victim stated that she needed to use the bathroom, and the defendant stated that she could use the bathroom in his apartment. The defendant accompanied the victim to his apartment, which was on the second floor of the building, and the victim went into the bathroom. When the victim tried to exit the bathroom, the defendant blocked the door and stated, ‘‘I'm going to get some of your fucking pussy.''

         The defendant ultimately allowed the victim to leave the bathroom, but he then blocked the victim's access to the front door, forcing the victim into the living room. The defendant closed the curtains in the living room and increased the volume on the radio that was playing. The victim later testified that she did not try to leave the apartment at this point because there was a ‘‘certain way'' to open the front door, and she did not know how to do so.

         The defendant then grabbed the victim and pushed her onto the couch in the living room while stating that he ‘‘wanted to get [the victim's] pussy.'' The victim attempted to push the defendant off of her, but the defendant held her down on the couch and began to rip off her pants and underwear. The defendant also punched and hit the victim in the face.[2]

         Additionally, the defendant continually choked the victim and hit her in the face. Periodically, the choking would cause the victim to have difficulty breathing. Whenever this happened, the victim would kick her feet at the defendant, and the defendant would briefly let go of her throat. Thereafter, the defendant would resume choking her. At one point during this episode, the defendant stated ‘‘I want to kill you'' and ‘‘I know I'm going to pay for this.'' The victim asked the defendant to return her cell phones, [3] which he had taken from her prior to the first episode where he attacked her, so that she could call her son. The defendant did not return the victim's cell phones to her and continued to hit her repeatedly. In an attempt to resist the defendant, the victim bit his pinky finger. The victim also tried to run toward the door in order to escape from the apartment, but the defendant prevented her from doing so by grabbing the hood of the sweatshirt she was wearing.

         After attacking the victim in the living room, the defendant brought her into his bedroom, threw her onto the bed, and commenced a second attack, continuing to hit and choke her. The defendant also ripped the victim's T-shirt off of her body and used it to choke her. Throughout this second episode, the defendant stated repeatedly that he wanted to kill the victim.

         The defendant then took the victim back into the living room and threw her onto a different couch than he had thrown her onto earlier. During this third attack, the defendant ‘‘beat [the victim] some more'' and choked her. Sometime thereafter, the defendant stopped attacking the victim. Even after the defendant stopped attacking the victim, he would not allow her to leave the apartment.

         Sometime in the early morning, on October 20, 2016, the victim was able to convince the defendant to allow her to leave the apartment by begging him to let her go to the store to purchase a drink and promising that she would return to the apartment afterward. The defendant accompanied the victim outside of the apartment building, but she was able to run away from him.

         The victim ran to a nearby gas station, where she asked an employee if she could use the phone to call the police because she had just been raped. The employee did not allow the victim to use the phone, so the victim left the gas station and continued walking down the street away from the defendant's apartment. While she was walking down the street, the victim saw an ambulance driving toward her. She waved down the ambulance and told the paramedics in the vehicle that she had been raped. One of the paramedics observed that the victim ‘‘had an abrasion of approximately four inches [on] the neck, '' as well as abrasions and swelling on her left eye and left ear.

         The paramedics parked the ambulance at the intersection of Fairfield Avenue and Norman Street in Bridgeport and contacted the police. The police arrived at approximately 2:30 a.m. and spoke with the victim. One of the police officers observed that the victim ‘‘had some red marks around her neck and some bruising to the face.'' The victim directed the police to 850 Hancock Street and informed them that the assault had occurred in an apartment on the second floor of the building. The police entered the building and spoke with the defendant in his apartment. The defendant admitted that he and the victim had sexual intercourse but claimed that it had been consensual. While the police were in the defendant's apartment, they noticed a pair of ripped women's underwear in the garbage can and took possession of them for evidentiary purposes. The police also asked the defendant whether he had in his possession the victim's cell phones and charging cord, because she had stated that they were ‘‘missing.'' The defendant gave the police the victim's cell phones and charger.

         The police then brought the defendant down to the front of the building, where the victim was waiting. The victim identified the defendant as the individual who had attacked her, and the police placed him under arrest.

         The victim then was transported to Bridgeport Hospital, where a nurse examined her and administered a sexual assault kit. The nurse observed that the victim ‘‘had ligature marks on her neck and some red marks and abrasions on her neck and chest.'' The victim complained of a headache and dizziness and stated that she had been punched in the face. The victim was prescribed Tylenol and Ibuprofen, as well as Meclizine for dizziness and Zofran or Ondansetron for nausea.

         The defendant thereafter was charged with sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (1) (sexual assault), assault in the third degree in violation of § 53a-61 (a) (1) (assault), unlawful restraint in the first degree in violation of § 53a-95 (a) (unlawful restraint), strangulation in the second degree in violation of § 53a-64bb (a) (strangulation), and threatening in the second degree in violation of § 53a-62 (a) (1) (threatening). The substitute information alleged that all of the crimes of which he was accused had occurred on October 20, 2016, at approximately 2 a.m.

         The defendant's case was tried before a jury in September, 2017. The jury returned a verdict in which it found the defendant guilty of the charges of strangulation, assault, unlawful restraint, and threatening, and not guilty of the charge of sexual assault. Before sentencing, the court ordered that the parties ‘‘submit a memorandum of law concerning whether and to what extent [§ 53a-64bb (b)] applies in the present case and, if so, the appropriate remedy to be implemented by the court at the time of sentencing.''

         On October 3, 2017, in response to the court's order, the defendant filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal as to the charges of assault and unlawful restraint. On October 25, 2017, the state filed a response to the court's order, in which it requested that the court impose separate sentences on each of the charges of which the defendant was found guilty and deny the defendant's October 3, 2017 motion for a judgment of acquittal. The state argued that § 53a-64bb (b) did not prohibit punishment for each offense ‘‘because the jury reasonably could have found the defendant guilty of unlawful restraint and assault for discrete acts that were separate from the act of strangling the victim.''

         On December 1, 2017, the court heard argument on the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal. Defense counsel argued: ‘‘[I]t's our position that the incident itself that took place at . . . 850 Hancock Avenue was one transaction. Even though the transaction may have occurred over a time period extending an hour, two hours, three hours . . . . [T]herefore, [the defendant] should receive acquittals on [the counts of assault and unlawful restraint] pursuant to [§ 53a-64bb (b)] and be sentenced on the guilty verdict on the other two ...


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