STATE v. SHEILA DAVALLOO, SC 19416

Judicial District of Stamford

 

      Criminal; Whether Appellate Court Properly Construed General Statutes § 54-84b in Concluding that Defendant’s Statements not Subject to Marital Communications Privilege.  The defendant was convicted of murder in connection with the death of Anna Lisa Raymundo.  The defendant and Raymundo were involved in a love triangle with their coworker, Nelson Sessler, while the defendant was married to Paul Christos.  The defendant did not tell her husband of the tripartite affair, but she frequently told him stories of her friend and confidant "Melissa" and of the intimate details of Melissa’s workplace love triangle with "Jack" and "Anna Lisa."  The defendant would sometimes tryst with Sessler at the home she shared with her husband, asking her husband to leave home on the premise that her mentally ill brother was visiting and she did not want her brother to know she was married.  The defendant also told her husband that she had purchased a lock pick set for Melissa because Melissa wanted to break into Anna Lisa’s apartment in order to “get a sense of the relationship between Jack and Anna Lisa.”  She practiced with the lock pick in front of her husband and asked to borrow an eavesdropping device that he owned, claiming she wanted to assist Melissa in monitoring Jack’s communications.  In November, 2002, Raymundo was found dead in her Stamford apartment of stab wounds inflicted during a violent struggle.  After Raymundo’s murder, the defendant told her husband that Jack and Anna Lisa had broken up and that Melissa and Jack were together exclusively.  She explained a severe cut on her thumb to her husband as an injury incurred opening a can, and she asked him questions about fingerprints and DNA.  In March, 2003, the defendant invited her husband to play a guessing game that involved him being handcuffed and blindfolded while she placed objects against his skin.  The defendant stabbed her husband during the “game,” and she was charged in New York with attempting to murder him.  When Sessler learned of the attempted murder charge, he told the police that they should consider the defendant a suspect in Raymundo’s murder.  The defendant was convicted of murder in connection with Raymundo’s death and she appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly allowed her husband to testify at trial as to incriminating statements she made to him because those communications were protected by the marital communications privilege.  In State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710 (2004), the Supreme Court recognized a common-law marital communications privilege, holding that a communication is protected if it was confidential and made to a spouse during a valid marriage.  Christian held that the privilege can apply in any legally valid marriage, irrespective of marital difficulties and despite outward appearances that the marriage is irretrievably broken.  General Statutes § 54-84b, enacted after Christian, codified the marital communications privilege and defines a “confidential communication” between spouses as one made during the marriage “that is intended to be confidential and is induced by the affection, confidence, loyalty and integrity of the marital relationship."  The Appellate Court (153 Conn. App. 419) affirmed the defendant’s murder conviction, rejecting her claim that the trial court wrongly determined that the marital communications privilege did not apply simply because it deemed the defendant’s marriage “bad.”  The Appellate Court held that the trial court properly focused on the nature of the specific communications and § 54-84b’s requirement that they be “induced by affection.”  The Appellate Court found that the trial court rightly determined that the privilege did not apply because the defendant’s communications with her husband were not “induced by affection” but rather were made to deceive him, to further her obsessive relationship with Sessler, and to induce her husband to assist in his own demise.  The defendant appeals, claiming that, in enacting § 54-84b, the legislature intended to codify—not restrict—the common-law marital communications privilege expressed in Christian.  She argues that the Appellate Court wrongly construed the statute’s “induced by affection” language as requiring a court to make subjective judgments about the health of the marriage despite Christian’s teaching that the privilege can apply even when a marriage is, by all appearances, “bad.”