Judicial District of Stamford


     Criminal; Whether Trial Court Violated Defendant's Right to Confrontation by Restricting his Cross-Examination of a Jailhouse Informant; Whether Prosecutorial Impropriety Deprived Defendant of a Fair Trial; Whether Evidence of Defendant's Gang Affiliation was Improperly Admitted.  The victim became involved in a verbal altercation with Jason Gonzalez.  The argument escalated, and Gonzalez pulled out a gun.  A struggle ensued between the two men, during which the gun apparently fell to the ground.  The defendant, who was standing nearby, picked up the gun and shot the victim.  The victim died as a result of his injuries and an autopsy revealed that he was shot once in the right elbow and once in the chest, the latter being the fatal shot.  Based in part on the state’s expert’s determination that the fatal shot was not fired at close range, the state concluded that the defendant had fired the fatal shot and charged him with murder.  Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine to preclude any evidence of his gang affiliation on the ground that the probative value of such evidence was outweighed by its prejudicial effect.  The trial court denied the motion.  At trial, James McGourn, a jailhouse informant, testified on direct examination by the state that the defendant confessed to shooting the victim.  McGourn also testified that the defendant told him that, because of his position in the Bloods gang, he was not worried about the pending murder charge since "his co-defendant would take the blame for it."  Additionally, McGourn testified that, although his motivation for cooperating with the police was to obtain a more favorable disposition of charges pending against him, he was not offered any deals or promises by the state.  On cross-examination, McGourn testified that he accepted the state's offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of two years incarceration.  When defense counsel asked McGourn what the maximum possible sentence that could have been imposed for those charges was, the prosecutor objected on the ground of relevance, and the court sustained the objection.  Subsequently, in an effort to show that the fatal shot was fired at close range by Gonzalez, the defendant’s expert, Peter Diaczuk, testified that the fatal shot was fired from a distance of less than three feet.  The defendant appeals from his conviction of murder, claiming that, in precluding him from asking McGourn about the maximum possible sentence he was facing when he offered to become an informant, the trial court violated his constitutional right to confrontation.  Additionally, the defendant claims that the prosecutor engaged in prosecutorial impropriety during his cross-examination of Diaczuk and during closing argument by making denigrating remarks about Diaczuk's qualifications and his testimony.  Finally, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly refused to preclude any evidence of his gang affiliation.