STATE v. ANTHONY COWARD, SC 17706
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Whether Conspirator was Vicariously Liable for Reckless Homicide Committed By Coconspirator; Whether Trial Court Properly Instructed Jury on Consciousness of Guilt and Reasonable Doubt. In connection with the deaths of Wahied Jerjies and Sara Sedor, the state charged the defendant with two counts of murder and felony murder, first degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first degree robbery, among other things. The state alleged that the defendant conspired with Keith Taylor and Maurice Lawrence to rob the victims and that during the course of such robbery, Taylor fatally shot Jerjies and fatally beat Sedor. At trial, the defendant claimed that he agreed to go for a car ride with Taylor and Lawrence and admitted taking something from the victims' apartment but asserted that he did not conspire to commit robbery and was not aware that Taylor and Lawrence were armed until after he arrived at the victims' apartment. He also claimed that he and Lawrence ran out of the apartment before the victims were killed. The state maintained that the defendant was vicariously liable for Taylor's actions in killing the victims. Before the jury rendered its verdict, the defendant moved for an acquittal on the murder charges. He argued that his role in the victims' deaths was so attenuated that he could not be held vicariously liable for their deaths under United States v. Pinkerton, 328 U.S. 640 (1946). Pinkerton provides that a conspirator may be held liable for criminal offenses committed by a coconspirator if those offenses are within the scope of the conspiracy and are reasonably foreseeable as a necessary or natural consequence of the conspiracy. The trial court denied the defendant's motion. Thereafter, it granted his request to instruct the jury on reckless manslaughter in connection with Sedor's death as a lesser included offense of murder. It specifically informed the jury that in order to convict the defendant of reckless manslaughter, it would have to find that Taylor was extremely indifferent to human life and recklessly engaged in conduct creating a grave risk of death to Sedor. The jury later found the defendant guilty of, among other things, the murder of Jerjies and the reckless manslaughter of Sedor under the Pinkerton theory of vicarious liability. The defendant then filed another motion for a judgment of acquittal in which he argued that the Pinkerton theory of vicarious liability is inapplicable to the charge of manslaughter. He essentially claimed that vicarious liability does not extend to a coconspirator's reckless or unintended act. The court denied his motion and sentenced him accordingly. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether a conspirator can be held vicariously liable for a reckless and therefore unintended homicide committed by a coconspirator. It will also determine whether the trial court's charge on consciousness of guilt improperly bolstered testimony from the state's central witness and whether its charge on reasonable doubt improperly diluted the state's burden of proof.