STATE v. ERICK BENNETT, SC 18862
Judicial District of New Haven
Criminal; Whether Court’s Refusal to Issue Material Witness Warrant and Admit Evidence Violated Right to Present Third Party Culpability Defense; Whether Court Improperly Refused to Conduct In Camera Review of Police Personnel Files; Whether Prosecutorial Impropriety Deprived Defendant of a Fair Trial. The defendant was convicted of murder in connection with the stabbing death of William Brown following a dispute in a restaurant parking lot. The defendant claimed that another man at the scene had stabbed the victim. Jennifer Matias observed the incident from her apartment window across the street and told police at the scene, and in a recorded statement at the police station, that she heard a man in a yellow shirt say that he had killed Brown. The defendant, who wore a red shirt on the night of the murder, attempted to subpoena Matias but was only able to contact her by telephone. Matias said that she was in Puerto Rico and that she did not plan to return. The defendant requested that the trial court order the state to issue a material witness warrant for Matias, but the court declined, finding that it had no authority to do so. The trial court also refused the defendant’s request that Matias’ statements be admitted into evidence under the spontaneous utterance or residual exceptions to the hearsay doctrine. The defendant also offered a signed statement made to his investigator by Veronica Arroyo, who was in the parking lot at the time of the murder, claiming it was admissible under State v. Whelan, 200 Conn. 743 (1986), because it was inconsistent with Arroyo’s trial testimony concerning the behavior of the victim and of a yellow-shirted man that was at the scene. Under Whelan, prior inconsistent statements of a nonparty witness may be admitted for substantive purposes where the declarant has signed the statement, has personal knowledge of the facts set forth therein and is subject to cross-examination at trial. The trial court refused to admit Arroyo’s statement, finding that it was not reliable in that it was given fourteen months after the murder to a private investigator rather than to a police officer and that, for the most part, it was not inconsistent with Arroyo’s trial testimony. The defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court’s rulings on his request for a material witness warrant and on the admissibility of the statements made by Matias and Arroyo violated his right to present a defense of third party culpability. The defendant also argues that the trial court improperly refused to conduct an in camera review of police personnel files to determine if any complaints had been filed against the police officers involved that alleged coercion of state’s witnesses or the mishandling of evidence. He further argues that the trial court improperly barred testimony concerning an internal affairs investigation of a police officer that was prompted by his complaint, which he claims was relevant to establish bias by the police and a motive to arrest him. He also argues that the trial court improperly failed to order an evidentiary hearing in response to his motion for a new trial, which was based on his claim that the state had failed to disclose evidence of problems at the state forensics laboratory that led to its decertification. Finally, the defendant contends that he was deprived of his right to a fair trial as a result of prosecutorial improprieties.