STATE v. BUDDY BEAVERS, SC 17778

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Criminal; Prior Misconduct Evidence; Marital Communications Privilege; Opinion Testimony; Whether Testimony of Defendant's Ex-Wife Regarding Defendant's Prior Experiences as an Arsonist was Relevant to Establish that Fire that Killed Defendant's Mother was not Set Accidentally; Whether Ex-Wife's Testimony was Barred by the Marital Communications Privilege; Whether Arson Investigator's Testimony that Fire was Set Intentionally was Inadmissible on the Ground that it Embraced the Ultimate Issue to be Decided by the Jury.  The defendant's mother was killed as a result of a fire that was allegedly set by the defendant in a failed attempt to murder his mother's boyfriend.  He was consequently charged with arson murder, attempt to commit murder, and arson in the first degree.  At trial, the prosecutor asked an arson investigator to identify the cause of the fire, and the defendant objected on the ground that the answer would embrace the ultimate issue to be decided by the jury.  The trial court overruled the objection, and the investigator testified that he believed that the fire had been set intentionally.  Thereafter, the state expressed its intention to call the defendant's ex-wife, Donna Ramsey, as a witness to testify that during their marriage, the defendant set fire to their trailer to collect insurance proceeds,  that he stated he was a professional arsonist, and, at a time when they were living separately, that he threatened to burn down her house.  The defendant objected to the testimony, arguing, among other things, that it was, at best, minimally relevant and that its prejudicial impact outweighed its probative value.  The trial court overruled the objection on the ground that the testimony was admissible under § 4-5 (b) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence for the purpose of proving that the fire was not set accidentally.  The day after Ramsey testified, the defendant moved to strike her testimony on the ground that it was barred by the marital communications privilege.  In denying the motion, the court concluded that the defendant waived the privilege by failing to assert it in a timely fashion.  It further determined that even if there had been no waiver, it would have ruled that the privilege did not apply to the testimony regarding the trailer because that incident involved the commission of a future crime in which Ramsey cooperated.  It also decided, among other things, that although the testimony concerning the defendant's being a professional  arsonist presented a closer question, such testimony may well have been admitted for similar reasons.  After the defendant was convicted as charged, he filed this appeal in which he challenges the foregoing evidentiary rulings.