STATE v. OREMA TAFT, SC 18163
Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport
Criminal; Whether Evidence was Sufficient to Support Conviction of Conspiracy to Commit Murder; Whether Murder Conviction was Premised on Finding that Defendant was Vicariously Liable for Coconspirator's Acts under Pinkerton v. United States. The defendant was charged with murder with a firearm, conspiracy to commit murder with a firearm, criminal possession of a firearm and carrying a pistol without a permit. The charges arose out of the state's allegation that the defendant and Miguel Zapata shot and killed Zoltan Kiss in Bridgeport in 2001. A jury returned guilty verdicts on the murder and conspiracy charges but acquitted the defendant of the weapons charges. In response to interrogatories, the jury indicated, as to the conspiracy count, that the state had not proved that the defendant used a firearm in the commission of that crime. As to the murder count, the jury circled neither "yes" nor "no" in response to the question "Did the state prove . . . that the defendant used a firearm in the commission of this crime as a principal or accessory?" The defendant appeals, claiming his conviction of conspiracy to commit murder cannot stand because the state presented insufficient evidence to prove that he and Zapata entered into an agreement to murder Kiss. He also claims that the murder conviction must fall along with the conspiracy conviction insofar as the murder conviction was predicated on a finding that he was criminally liable for Zapata's acts under Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640. Under Pinkerton, a conspirator may be held vicariously liable for offenses committed by a coconspirator that are (1) within the scope of the conspiracy, (2) in furtherance of the conspiracy, and (3) a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy. The defendant claims that the jury's responses to the interrogatories reveal that its guilty verdict on the murder charge was premised on a finding that he was liable for Zapata's acts under Pinkerton and that he was not found liable as a principal or as an accessory. He argues that, absent sufficient proof of any conspiracy with Zapata, it follows that he could not be liable under Pinkerton for murder. The defendant's other claims on appeal are that prosecutorial impropriety denied him a fair trial and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in, among other things, failing to cross-examine three state witnesses about their expectations of receiving reward money in exchange for their cooperation with the state.