STATE v. KENNETH JOHN OTTO, SR., SC 18353
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Murder; Prosecutorial Impropriety; Whether the Evidence was Sufficient to Prove that the Defendant had the Specific Intent to Cause the Victim's Death. The defendant was convicted of murder and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of Shamaia Smith. Smith's remains were found in a fire pit on the defendant's undeveloped property; her body was almost completely cremated, leaving only a portion of a foot and some bone fragments. On appeal, the defendant claims that the state did not present sufficient evidence to prove that he possessed the specific intent to cause Smith's death, an essential element of the crime of murder. He claims that absent any evidence of the cause and means of death, of the instrument used or the manner in which it was used, of planning or motive, or of the events immediately surrounding Smith's death, there was no evidence from which the jury could properly infer that he acted with the specific intent to kill. The defendant argues that, while the evidence reasonably supported inferences that Smith lost a significant amount of blood on the floor of a camper on his property and that he cleaned up the blood, there was no evidence showing the cause of the blood loss and, consequently, whether the blood loss was related to Smith's death or came after it. The defendant also contends that evidence that showed his consciousness of guilt—including his cleaning and destruction of the camper, burning of the body and attempts to conceal his connection with Smith's death on his property—did not tend to prove that he intended to cause her death. Finally, the defendant argues that prosecutorial impropriety during closing argument deprived him of a fair trial. He claims that the prosecutor essentially urged the jury that he should be convicted of murder because he had destroyed the evidence that might have provided information concerning the circumstances of Smith's death and that the defendant should not be "rewarded" for doing so. The defendant argues that, by suggesting that the jury could infer what actually happened from the fact of the destruction of evidence, the prosecutor's statements impermissibly reduced the state's burden of proving all the elements of the crime of murder.