Judicial District of Fairfield


      Criminal; Admissibility of Evidence; Whether Appellate Court Properly Concluded that Trial Court Abused its Discretion when it Admitted Evidence of Defendant's Involvement in a Prior Shooting.  On the morning of December 3, 2002, the body of Calvin Hopkins was found in a car parked on a Bridgeport street.  An autopsy revealed that Hopkins died from a gunshot wound to the head.  At the scene, two  fingerprints were found on the vehicle, one of which was later determined to be the defendant's.  Also, a bullet shell casing was recovered from Hopkins' shirt collar.  In January, 2003, the defendant turned himself in for the August, 2002 nonlethal shooting of his cousin's husband, Stephen Rose, in Bridgeport.  During questioning by the police, the defendant admitted shooting Rose, but also indicated that he had since sold the gun.  Upon being questioned about Hopkins' killing, the defendant admitted meeting with Hopkins in his car to purchase drugs on the night of December 2, 2002, but denied killing him.  Subsequently, a firearms examiner concluded that the shell that was recovered from Hopkins' collar was fired from the same weapon that was used previously in the Rose assault.  Thereafter, the defendant was charged with Hopkins' murder.  At trial, the state sought to admit evidence concerning the Rose shooting.  The defendant objected, claiming that the probative value of such evidence was outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice.  The trial court overruled his objection but instructed the jury that such evidence could not be used to infer bad character of the defendant or his tendency to commit criminal acts.  The defendant was convicted of murder, felony murder and robbery.  The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court (111 Conn. App. 730), challenging the admission of the evidence of his involvement in the Rose shooting.  The court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting such evidence because the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant far outweighed its probative value.  In so concluding, the court explained that it would have been sufficient for relevancy purposes for the state simply to have introduced evidence that the defendant had at some time owned a gun that produces shell casings that match the one found on Hopkins' collar without going into the details of his involvement with the assault on Rose.  The court further determined that the defendant met his burden of proving that the error was harmful.  On appeal, the state argues that the evidence of the prior shooting was highly probative because it was relevant to the defendant's means to commit the crime, identity, crucial prosecution testimony and motive.  The state also asserts that the prejudicial effect was minimal.  The Supreme Court will now review the Appellate Court's conclusion that it was an abuse of discretion to admit evidence of the defendant's involvement in the prior shooting.