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State v. Mekoshvili

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 7, 2020

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
SHOTA MEKOSHVILI

          Argued September 23, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford and tried to the jury before Blawie, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Norman A. Pattis, with whom, on the brief, was Kevin Smith, for the appellant (defendant).

          Ronald G. Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Richard J. Colangelo, Jr., state's attorney, and James Bernardi, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Lavine, Devlin and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          BEACH, J.

         The defendant, Shota Mekoshvili, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered on a jury verdict of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. He claims that the trial court erred by (1) admitting testimony under the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule, (2) admitting testimony regarding the victim's habit, and (3) refusing to include in the jury instructions a unanimity charge as to whether the state had disproven an element of the defendant's self-defense claim. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found from the evidence presented and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, and procedural history are relevant on appeal. The victim, Mohammed Kamal, operated a taxi with his business partner, Jean Antoine. Antoine worked the day shift, generally from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the victim worked the night shift, generally from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The cab was registered with Stamford Taxi (company), and the partners paid a weekly fee totaling $475 to the company. The fee was due on Wednesdays at noon. The victim customarily placed his share of the fee in the glove compartment of the vehicle during his Tuesday night shift, and Antoine removed the money and delivered it to the company on Wednesday mornings.

         On the evening of Tuesday, August 26, 2014, the victim left home for his shift in the taxi between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. At approximately 12:30 a.m. on August 27, the victim briefly returned home and told his wife that he had forgotten to take the money for his share of the fee that he needed to leave in the taxi; he said he also planned to send some money to his family in Bangladesh. The victim's wife observed him take money out of an armoire, after which the victim returned to his shift. At approximately 3 a.m., the defendant hailed the victim's taxi and directed the victim to drive to Doolittle Road, in Stamford. While on Doolittle Road, the defendant began to stab the victim repeatedly. At some point, the defendant opened the glove compartment, stole the money that the victim had set aside for the taxi fee and for his family in Bangladesh, took the victim's credit card, and fled the scene toward the defendant's apartment.

         While fleeing from the scene, the defendant called a friend, Eugene Goldshtyen, several times and offered Goldshtyen $100 to pick him up. Goldshtyen met the defendant at the defendant's apartment and asked whether the defendant received his injuries during a burglary. The defendant falsely replied ‘‘yeah'' and explained that he encountered the homeowner during the burglary and started fighting with the homeowner, whom he stabbed multiple times. The defendant said that ‘‘[w]hen the homeowner ‘kept yelling' despite the defendant's order to ‘shut up,' the defendant ‘just kept stabbing him and stabbing him.' '' Not believing the defendant's story, Goldshtyen called the police.

         Later that morning, Stamford Police located the victim's body and the taxi at 150 Doolittle Road. The victim's body was found on the ground, and an autopsy revealed that the victim had been stabbed 127 times. The taxi's glove compartment was open and no money was found inside. The victim's and the defendant's blood was found on the rear driver's side passenger seat and door. The police arrested the defendant and charged him with murder in violation of § 53a-54a. The money, which the state claimed had been stolen, was not recovered.

         Prior to trial, the state filed a motion in limine seeking to introduce the testimony of two witnesses: (1) testimony from the victim's wife that when the victim returned home briefly from his shift at 12:30 a.m., she saw him retrieve money from the armoire, and the victim then told her that ‘‘he intended to use this money to pay his dispatch fees and to send money home to Bangladesh''; and (2) testimony from the victim's taxi partner, Antoine, that it ‘‘was [the victim's] habit and custom to leave his share [of the taxi fee] in the glove compartment'' for Antoine to give to the company the next morning. The trial court held a hearing on the matter and subsequently admitted the testimony of both witnesses.

         The jury returned a verdict finding the defendant guilty of murder in violation of § 53a-54a. Thereafter, the court imposed a total effective sentence of sixty years of incarceration. The defendant filed an appeal in our Supreme Court, and the appeal was transferred to this court on September 24, 2018.

         ‘‘Our standard of review for evidentiary matters allows the trial court great leeway in deciding the admissibility of evidence. The trial court has wide discretion in its rulings on evidence and its rulings will be reversed only if the court has abused its discretion or an injustice appears to have been done. . . . The exercise of such discretion is not to be disturbed unless it has been abused or the error is clear and involves a misconception of the law.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Russo, 62 Conn.App. 129, 133, 773 A.2d 965 (2001). In reviewing for an abuse of ...


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