STATE v. WILLIE JAMES COLEMAN, SC 18519
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Whether the Defendant's Murder Conviction was Supported by the Evidence; Whether the Trial Court Properly Instructed the Jury that the Type and Number of Wounds Inflicted may be Considered Evidence of the Defendant's Intent to Cause the Victim's Death. The defendant was charged with murder in connection with the stabbing death of his girlfriend, Twonna White. At trial, the state introduced evidence of the defendant's 911 telephone call, during which he requested an ambulance for White after he admitted that he had stabbed her. The state also introduced the testimony of a medical examiner, who opined that White's fatal injury was a stab wound to the chest and that the other stab wounds that White sustained did not contribute to her death. At the conclusion of the state's case, the defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that the state had failed to demonstrate that he intended to kill White. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant later objected to the portion of the court's proposed jury instructions that stated that "the type and number of wounds inflicted . . . may be considered as evidence of the perpetrator's intent" to cause the victim's death. He argued that the instruction constituted improper editorializing because it encouraged the jury to focus on the number of wounds that were inflicted and ignore the circumstantial evidence that demonstrated the defendant's lack of intent to kill White, such as his efforts to secure medical attention for her. The court declined to omit the instruction, calling it mere "boilerplate" language, but it agreed to include references to the circumstantial evidence that the defendant had identified. Subsequently, during closing arguments, the state maintained that the defense did not want the jury "to pay attention to the facts and to the evidence because they know that points to murder." The defendant moved for a mistrial on the ground that the statement was improper. The court denied the defendant's motion, determining that any prejudice that the statement had caused could be remedied by a curative instruction. Thereafter, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder. In this appeal, the defendant argues that the state merely established that he was guilty of manslaughter, not murder, because the evidence demonstrated that he attempted to obtain medical assistance for White and that all but one of the wounds that White received were superficial. He further contends that the trial court's "boilerplate" instruction regarding the number of wounds inflicted was inappropriate given that most of White's wounds were superficial. His final claim is that the state engaged in prosecutorial impropriety when it opined that the defense knew that the evidence "points to murder."