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State v. Francis

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 31, 2019


          Argued October 17, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the jury before Crawford, J.; thereafter, the court denied the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Conrad Ost Seifert, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Donna Mambrino, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Prescott, Bright and Sheldon, Js.


          BRIGHT, J.

         The defendant, Maurice Francis, appeals from the judgment of conviction rendered by the trial court of one count of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal[1] because there was insufficient evidence to establish that he caused the death of the victim[2] or that he had the specific intent to cause the death of the victim. In the alternative, the defendant requests that we change our long-standing standard of review with respect to insufficiency of evidence claims, so that we review the evidence under a much more rigorous standard to determine if there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a hypothesis of innocence. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following evidence, which was admitted at trial, and relevant procedural history inform our review. The victim and the defendant lived together in an apartment building located at 47 Berkeley Drive in Hartford. The victim was employed as a school bus monitor with Specialty Transportation (Specialty), which was previously known as Logisticare. She had worked in that position for approximately four or five years. Her supervisor was Timothy Gamble. Gamble described the victim as ‘‘happy, always smiling, [and] coming to work on time every day . . . .'' Gamble stated that when the victim began dating the defendant, however, she changed. The victim then began to come to work with cuts, bruises, and other injuries to her body. Her disposition changed. On more than one occasion, she arrived at work with a bloodied shirt and injuries. On one specific occasion, she arrived at work wearing dark glasses in an attempt to hide her blackened eye. As time went on, Gamble became so concerned for the victim that he invited her to move in with him and his wife, an offer which the victim declined. He also suggested that she go to a women's shelter, which she also declined.

         On the morning of Saturday, November 1, 2008, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Beverly Copeland, who lived across the street from the defendant and the victim, left her apartment. As Copeland went to get into her vehicle, which was parked in front of her building, she saw a black male standing, looking down at the grass in front of his apartment building. At first, Copeland thought the man was looking at a pile of clothing in the grass. When the man bent down to pick up what was in the grass, Copeland realized that it was not a pile of clothing, but, rather, it was the body of a woman, who had braids in her hair. Copeland then saw the man put the woman's body over his shoulders. After taking a couple of steps, the man put down the woman and then began to drag her by the hands and arms across the street, as her back dragged along the ground. The woman, herself, did not move. After the man got to a silver Volvo station wagon that was parked across the road, he put the woman's body into the front passenger's seat. Still, the woman did not move. The man then got into the driver's seat of the silver Volvo station wagon and began to drive away; Copeland wrote down the license plate number, which was 110-XDZ.[3]

         The defendant drove the silver 1998 Volvo station wagon (1998 Volvo), with the woman's body in the passenger's seat, to Sparks Motor Sales in Hartford (Sparks). When he arrived at approximately 9 a.m., he telephoned Garth Wallen, the owner of Sparks, who was still at home. The defendant had purchased his 1998 Volvo from Sparks the previous month, and he recently had made arrangements with Wallen to exchange that vehicle for a different vehicle. When Wallen arrived at Sparks, the defendant was standing beside his 1998 Volvo, which was parked in front of the locked driveway gate. Wallen then opened the gate so they could enter. Wallen saw a woman in the passenger's seat, whom he recognized to be the defendant's girlfriend, but the woman did not speak or make any gestures. The defendant then drove the 1998 Volvo down the driveway, parking it with the driver's side of the vehicle along the wall of the building, facing a wooden fence, in an area where a dumpster generally is kept but which was not present at that time. The defendant got out of his vehicle, leaving the woman inside. The defendant was ‘‘hanging around'' at Sparks until approximately 4 p.m., when Wallen obtained a 1999 Volvo for him to test drive for the weekend. The woman never got out of the defendant's vehicle during the six or seven hours it was parked at Sparks, used the bathroom, or looked at the 1999 Volvo when it was brought over. The defendant, however, at one point during the day, asked Wallen if it would be okay if he got his girlfriend a cup of water; Sparks had a rented Poland Spring dispenser with cups.

         After obtaining the 1999 Volvo, the defendant moved the 1998 Volvo and aligned it beside the 1999 Volvo, passenger side to passenger side, in the ‘‘back section'' of Sparks. Wallen, thereafter, was busy assisting a customer. He noticed, however, that the defendant later moved the 1998 Volvo back to where he had parked it in the morning, alongside the wall of the building. The defendant also took the plates off his 1998 Volvo and put them on the 1999 Volvo, hung the keys to his 1998 Volvo in the garage, and drove away in the 1999 Volvo. Because the windows of the 1999 Volvo were tinted, Wallen could not see the defendant's girlfriend inside the 1999 Volvo as the defendant drove away in the vehicle. The defendant and Wallen had made plans that they would wrap up the paperwork for the purchase of the 1999 Volvo the following week. They had no plans to talk again until then. The defendant, however, telephoned Wallen later that day, after leaving Sparks, and he told Wallen that a kid in his neighborhood really liked the 1999 Volvo and that he just wanted Wallen to know.

         At 10:50 p.m. that night, the defendant called 911, and he told the dispatcher he had just returned home when he found the victim in the bathtub, after having spoken to her on the phone approximately a half hour or an hour before;[4] the front door was open when he returned home and every light was on; he had dropped off the victim at home a ‘‘couple of hours ago''; the victim had no pulse when he found her; he did not want to attempt CPR on her; he did not want to touch the victim; the victim had been having problems with a neighbor who had psychological problems; the victim was kind of ‘‘retarded''; the victim had been having mental problems and problems like ‘‘falling down the stairs, '' which could be verified by hospital records; the victim had a cut over her left eye; the victim had been with him all day; and he could provide ‘‘proof'' that she had been with him from the owner of a car dealership.

         At approximately 11 p.m., Michael DiGiacamo, a firefighter with the Hartford Fire Department, arrived at 47 Berkeley Drive. The defendant, who was standing outside, directed DiGiacamo to his second floor apartment. Upon entering the apartment, DiGiacamo saw the victim lying in the bathtub. She was naked, dry, cold and unresponsive; the bathtub contained no water or blood. DiGiacamo and another firefighter removed the victim from the tub and began CPR; the victim still did not respond. DiGiacamo noticed that the victim had ‘‘multiple wounds and laceration type stab wounds'' on her body. Additional emergency medical personnel arrived and continued CPR. While the paramedics were attending to the victim, DiGiacamo went into the living room where the defendant was speaking with a lieutenant from the fire department. The defendant repeatedly asked if the victim was dead. DiGiacamo thought this was odd because, in his experience, most people ask whether a victim is okay, not whether a victim is dead.

         In an interview conducted at the Hartford Police Department on November 2, 2008, the defendant told Detective R. Kevin Salkeld that, on the morning of November 1, 2008, after showering at 8 a.m., he and the victim went to Sparks in his 1998 Volvo. He stated that the victim stayed in the passenger's seat of the car all day while he did odd jobs for Wallen until approximately 5 p.m.[5] The defendant told Salkeld that he brought the victim five bottles of water during the day, which she drank.[6] The defendant also told Salkeld that he went to Sparks because he wanted to pick up a 1999 Volvo to test drive for the weekend, which is the car in which he and the victim drove home after he did the odd jobs throughout the day. The defendant also told Salkeld that he unlocked the door for the victim when they arrived home, and that he then returned to Sparks to help Wallen clean up, and although it was the victim's habit to lock the doors, when the defendant returned home the front door was open.[7] According to the defendant, he was supposed to meet Wallen at Wallen's home after the cleanup, and, although he went to Wallen's home, Wallen never came;[8] the defendant stated that he waited at Wallen's home and that he repeatedly telephoned Wallen until approximately 10:30 p.m., but Wallen did not answer the calls;[9] the defendant told Salkeld, however, that he did not remember Wallen's home address. The defendant told Salkeld that after waiting for Wallen, he returned home, found the door open, and saw the victim lying in the bathtub; he then called 911.[10]

         At approximately 7:12 a.m., on November 2, 2008, Detective Ramon Baez from the Hartford Police Department Crime Scene Division, began to process the scene of the victim's death. One of the items Baez processed was a clump of braided hair that he discovered in front of the apartment building. John Schienman, a forensic science examiner from the Division of Scientific Services, performed DNA testing on the roots of several pieces of hair from the clump that was found by Baez, and he determined that the DNA found on those hair roots was consistent with the victim's DNA profile.[11]Baez also found numerous small blood ...

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